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Synetic Revives Georgian Epic

"Host and Guest" a reaction to war in the Caucasus.

Current events and cultural events can intersect in curious ways at times. The connection between the recent combat operations of Russian forces inside of the Republic of Georgia and the production that Synetic Theater has just opened in Rosslyn is concrete, dramatic and palpable.

It isn’t just that the piece the company is performing is based on a classic Georgian poem, "Host and Guest" by Vazha Pshavela. It isn’t even that the action of the story takes place in the forests of the Georgian Caucasus Mountains or that it deals with sectional hatreds and traditions of honor. Those things would be enough by themselves.

But the connection to the theater troupe itself is what makes the piece so compellingly timely.

Synetic Theater is a company headed by actor/director/playwright Paata Tsikurishvili, a native of Georgia, who, along with his actress/dancer/choreographer wife Irina, emigrated to the United States in 1997. Together, they have shaken up the local theater world. Many of the artists who work with them at Synetic are also from Georgia or the neighboring areas of the Caucasus.

When the war broke out in Georgia in August, the company was in preparation for their first show of the 2008-09 season which was to be a stage adaptation of the story from the classic silent horror film, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." But the members of the troupe simply couldn’t concentrate on that project while war raged in their homeland. So, Tsikurishvili as the Artistic Director of the company made the decision to change the show they would present.

Six years ago, the company had had great success with this highly dramatic story of a Georgian Muslim who took into his home a Christian from a rival village and then defended him from harm from his outraged neighbors even at the expense of his own life. The 2002 production had been nominated for the Helen Hayes Awards for Outstanding Play, Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Choreography. It lost all three of those awards but only to another production of their company which swept the awards, "Hamlet … the Rest is Silence."

Tsikurishvili decided to postpone "Dr. Caligari," and instead, bring back "Host and Guest." Synetic’s performance style is unique, requiring incredibly disciplined physical work by an entire cast blending highly athletic dance moves with dramatic mime and a minimum of dialogue. The style requires intense preparation and the company typically rehearses its shows twice as long as most other companies do before opening night. Thus, the switch from "Dr. Caligari" to "Host and Guest" presented a real challenge.

The results now on stage at the Spectrum in Rosslyn are infused with the sense of concern the company has held for the homeland of many of the members. The strikingly effective set, costume and properties design (including fabulous use of fog and wind) is by Georgi Alexi-Meskishvili, the chief designer of the Rustaveli Drama Theater and the National Opera in Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi. The musical score which, is so much a factor in this dance-dominated production, is by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, a native of Tbilisi. The role of the leader of the outraged neighbors is played with menace by Georgian State Institute of Theater and Film graduate Irakli Kavsadze.

Paata Tsikurishvili again directs and Irina Tsikurishvili again choreographs as well as staring as the wife of the host who takes in the guest. Unlike six years ago, however, Paata doesn’t play the host. The title roles are played with superb intensity by Daqn Istrate and Ben Cunis, both veteran members of the Synetic troupe. Another major difference between the 2002 production and this one is the use of a new musical score by Lortkipanidze, a score which is atmospheric and viscerally dramatic.

The result, a one-act event that lasts just under an hour and a half, is an immersion into the emotions of a troupe responding to the trauma of war felt from half a world away, but felt with no less intensity due to the distance.

<i>Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a Web site covering theater in the region <a href=http://(www.PotomacStages.com> www.PotomacStages.com</a>). He can be reached at<a href=mailto:Brad@PotomacStages.com> Brad@PotomacStages.com</a>.</i>