Paata Tsikurishvili’s Synetic Theater scored a direct hit four years ago when it staged a thrillingly dramatic one-act encapsulation of the tale of the blood-sucking Transylvanian count of legend, "Dracula," first at The Kennedy Center in Washington and then at the Rosslyn Spectrum.
Now, they try to recreate that magic with a revised version of the piece and, while lightning doesn’t strike a second time with as much force and shock as in 2005, there’s still enough punch left in the old war horse to impress — especially when the skills of the entire company are turned to the more violent and physical aspects of the tale.
Some elements of the tale date back over 500 years to the time of the Romanian prince with a habit of impaling victims on poles in the public square, earning him the name Vlad the Impaler. In Romanian, his name sounded a bit like "Dracula" which Irish novelist Bram Stoker used for his gothic novel about a vampire which has become the basis of everything from horror movies to Broadway musicals.
Synetic’s take on the tale began as a one-act, 15-scene presentation that relied heavily on the physical movement-based style of theater that Paata Tsikurishvili and his wife Irina brought with them when they emigrated to the United States from their native Republic of Georgia. It had a script that was more a synopsis of scenes by Jonathan Leveck, and Paata Tsikurishvili not only directed, he portrayed the title character.
The new production is again directed by Tsikurishvili but Count Dracula is now performed by company regular Dan Istrate who seems at times to float about the stage in the less violent scenes and then bursts into combat with acrobatic energy.
Visual effects still abound with the opening sequence of combat featuring bodies flung right and left and subsequent scenes either dripping with red ribbons of "blood" or sparkling with a bright white dress against a stark black background.
The script, however, has been revisited and revised and is now listed as "a new play by Nathan Weinberger" with no mention of Leveck’s 2005 version even though it remains the 15-scene structure. As is often the case with Synetic productions, the show is at its most impressive when the characters are not speaking at all, and the incredibly precise, physically impressive choreography of Irina Tsikurishvili tells the story in motion rather than in word.
This version of "Dracula" has a bit too much dialogue in it and the spoken word becomes a distraction from that other, more impressive method of storytelling the company has mastered.
The entire company, all 14 of them on the small stage of the Spectrum, throw themselves into the scenes with flair and passion. Natalie Berk and Mary Werntz are the principal women in the cast but it is the trio of Stacey Jackson, Irina Koval and Catalina Lavalle who capture most eyes as Dracula’s wives due to the blood red gowns that designer Anastasia Ryurikov Simes provides.
In addition to Istrate, the men include Alex Mills, giving an open and clear performance as the British clerk who travels to Transylvania on assignment from his firm, and Irakli Kavsadze whose bug-eating inmate in an asylum is an unfortunate distraction from the central story of blood lust.
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 (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.