Devotees of Edgar Allen Poe know "The Fall of the House of Usher" as a story that emerges from the mist of narrative in bits and pieces. You don't know who this Roderick Usher is and you don't know what has tormented him, his sister and his entire family for generations.
What a superb opportunity for the Synetic Theatre: Here's a company that specializes in creating unforgettable impressions without stopping to explain them. The representation of agony. The image of suffering. The feeling of distress. These are things this company, with its unique blend of choreography, music and striking visuals is in the habit of bringing into sharp focus.
The show, which plays through October 31 at the Rosslyn Spectrum, is one of atmosphere — and nobody does atmosphere better than Synetic.
To adapt Poe's story of the last generation of a tormented family, director Paata Tsikurishvili teamed with Nathan Weinberger, as he did for Synetic's "Animal Farm," "Macbeth" and "Frankenstein," to create a script that gives his cast and creative team every opportunity to form imaginative stage pictures and intensely absorbing moments.
The result is visually spectacular, dramatically impressive and emotionally involving. With choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili, the cast of nine move with a kind of hypnotic grace as they build to a frenetic, physical finale.
Well, eight of the nine cast members do.
THE NINTH is Theodore M. Snead, who plays the one outsider. To create dramatic contrast between his character, the one non-Usher, and the tormented family, he moves normally and gives the audience a measure against which to judge the abnormality of the other eight.
Foremost among the Ushers is Greg Marzullo as Roderick, a man whose generous instincts and genial charm have been completely overcome by pain and suffering of a most debilitating, if unexplained, nature.
In Marzullo's portrayal, there is just enough humanity and charm to make Roderick a truly tragic figure.
The tragedy of Roderick is that he has determined that the horrors that have beset his entire family for generations are so unbearable and also so unstoppable that the only way to bring an end to the terror is to bring an end to the family line. He's determined to avoid having any offspring himself and to keep his sister - the only other Usher alive - from any chance of pregnancy as well.
Opiates are his weapon of choice, and the entire piece plays out as if in, to use Poe's words, an "after-dream of opium."
Irina Koval plays the sister with an abandon that fits the piece, and
together Roderick and sister his Madeline become a couple, with more than a hint of incestuous temptation adding to the tension of the effort to end the line.
Only one other cast member portrays a living person. He is Philip Fletcher as the servant who seems to be deteriorating along with the family. The other five are "The House": spectres of the family's past who appear from semi-transparent coffins and put up a glorious but loosing fight to continue the line.
Speaking of coffins, it wouldn't be Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" without a live internment. Here, it is Koval as Madeline confined to a glass-sided coffin in a moment of vivid visual impact.
All of this is set to the impressive and wide ranging musical score of Konstantine Lortkipanidze, who uses everything from symphonic sounding, room filling sonic splendor to more modern avant-garde musical styles.
The one-act, one and a half hour production builds to its final climax with such intensity that the ensuing silence is a shock.
Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a website covering theater in the region, www.PotomacStages.com. He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.