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Synetic Presents ‘Three Men in a Boat’

Based on an 1889 book, the story is a holiday through the English countryside.

Synetic Theater is concluding its 2013-14 season with a new adaptation of “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” May 8 through June 8 in Crystal City.

The production features D.C. theater stars Tim Getman, Rob Jansen and Tom Story making their Synetic Theater debuts and Synetic company member Alex Mills who was most recently seen as the title character in “Hamlet …the rest is silence.”

First published in 1889 by author Jerome K. Jerome, “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” is the story of a boating holiday through the English countryside. The travelogue up the Thames River tells the story of three men suffering from a severe case of “overwork” who get into one satirically hilarious predicament after another along the way. This classic comedy is known around the world but is still unfamiliar to American audiences.

“It’s one of the funniest books ever written, but it speaks to our yearning and our longing for something deeper in the world that connects to our deeper self,” said director Derek Goldman. “It’s about these gentlemen’s desires to get away from it all.”

Goldman said the project offers many opportunities for physical humor and high jinks. He said that fusing the play with Synetic’s unique style allowed them to be bolder with the production. “It stretches everybody on both sides,” he added.

With actor Alex Mills playing Montmorency (the terrier), Goldman said that the choreography is part of the physical expression of the language. “It’s more of a form of telling the story,” he said. “And it’s very funny.” He added, “That’s the language of choreography — it’s using all of these expressive elements of theater.”

Mills said Montmorency is the owned dog of Jerome, but very much a shared dog between the characters in terms of affection and appreciation, and also an entity unto himself.

“There is a large amount of text, so my challenge was how to bring an animal to life in a way that stays true to the world of spoken language and combines that with the reality of a dog,” he said. “It's developing and I'm finding a unique vocabulary of barking with inflection and movement that, hopefully, makes sense.”

Added Mills, “The play is all about friendship and the dynamics you have with specific people in your life whom you don't get along with all the time but come to find that you need them and love them. We all have our quirks and that's why friends become friends and why certain dynamics create a sense of family.

Tim Getman plays George, who he describes as a bit of a bon vivant who may be a bit too confident for his own good. His adventure in camping and boating turn out to be harder than he fantasizes it to be.

He said the challenge was the play’s physical world in conjunction with choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili’s vision and Synetic’s high expectation and specificity. “The challenges that that has brought into this process is great but also hard both for brain and body,” he said.

He calls “Three Men in a Boat” a timeless story about friendship — of getting away from the hustle and bustle and remembering what you value and appreciate when you’re away from it.”

Rob Jansen, who plays Harris, describes his character as someone who likes to make lists of the places he plans to see before a trip and then delights in checking them off along the way. While he attempts to bottle up his emotions and is described by author Jerome as one who "never weeps," his humor comes from watching as his emotions get the best of him.

He said a challenge was balancing the language-based humor with the physical comedy. “Both take a great amount of time and specificity to discover in a process,” he said.

“I hope audiences leave with a sense of having been another traveler on the boat with us,” he said. “That they feel a part of the journey between these three men (to say nothing of their dog) along the Thames and are maybe a little better off from joining us along the way.”

“Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)” opens Thursday, May 8 and runs Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through June 8. Tickets start at $35. Student tickets start at $15. Senior citizens and military receive $5 off. Group discounts are available. The venue is at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St. Parking is free after 4 p.m. on weekdays, free all day on weekends. Call the box office at 866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.