Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hunchback of Notre Dame

Okay, so what I experienced today at the theater was unlike anything that I've seen all year with the possible exception of "Moby Dick" at Arena Stage, but there the actors also used dialogue.  Synetic theatre takes classic tales from Shakespeare and Fables and modern (not contemporary) Literature and transforms them into theatrical experiences that seamless meld the set, music, sound effects, lighting, costumes and the human form into one complete and utterly transfixing moment.  The lack of dialogue was completely irrelevant.  From the moment the lights came up until they went down I felt like I was in a magical dream.  I could not help by let myself go and become enveloped by what I was witnessing.  My appreciation for what theater can do and be has been heightened--and all the more so for what truly profound actors can accomplish with their faces and their bodies. 

The role of the priest Frollo was played with such mercurial grace in the beginning.  Philip Fletcher presented us with a disciplines compassion cleric whose transformation into a tortured sexually repressed murderous sole under the spell of the beautiful free-spirited Esmeralda was nearly overwhelming in its intensity.  The fair and seductive Esmeralda was performed with joy, courage, and even innocence by Irina Kavsadze.  And, of course, there was Quasimodo.  Vato Tsikurishvili's embodiment of the pathetic monster was perfect in every way.  His dog-like loyalty to his benefactor, Frollo was contrasted in the end by his fierce canine revenge.   His confused acquiescence at the taunting of the solders, the beatings of the villagers, the lashings from Frollo were so real that you could not help but feel them too.  And the tears that suddenly appeared in my eyes and rolled freely down by cheeks when Esmeralda attended to him after the attack of the villages was the inevitable response to such profound empathy.  Lest you think this show is just a masochistic tour de force (and it kinda is), there were moments of humor, too.  Robert Bowen Smith in the role of the minstrel Gringoire gave the audience a needed moment of levity or two. 

Synetic Theatre was founded 16 years ago by a couple from Soviet Georgia; I believe their son played the role of Quasimodo in this production, and the works are created by them in a manner likened to traditional Georgian public theater.  The costumes and sets were dynamic and at times allowed the actors to practically become part of the set.  This was particularly true with the characters of the gargoyles who come to life from off of the menacing sword-like walls of the Cathedral.  The use of music and sound enhanced the narrative perfectly, and the lighting was also a silent member of the cast, constantly setting and guiding the mood and at times leading us through the fast-paced storyline.  Also, I truly loved the director's notes.  They were among the finest I've ever seen and most productions don't even bother.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Quasimodo
Irina Kavsadze as Esmeralda
Philip Fletcher in the role of Frollo the Priest with the gargoyles

Stepping back and imagining a metaphor for this production, I would say it was a grand display of fireworks on a warm summer's eve, beautiful, explosive, always a hint of danger and mesmerizing.  Essentially the play is an exploration of the power and the limitations of love and lust in the human heart.  I was utterly enthralled by it.  I could not recommend it more to my local theater going friends.

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