Alex Mills and Natalie Berk in Romeo & Juliet. Photograph courtesy Synetic Theater.
☆☆☆ out of four
Synetic Theater’s production of Romeo & Juliet never lets the audience forget that fate is stacked against its title characters. That’s because the clock is ticking, literally, from the beginning. Designer Anastasia Simes’s set is a study in clockwork, gears turning on stage and performers interlocking to become part of the machinery. It’s an effective device, and when paired with Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s score—which is peppered with sound effects like discordant beeps and ticking noises—it helps build tension in this silent take on the original tale of star-crossed lovers.
Romeo and Juliet wraps up Synetic’s three-play “Speak No More” festival (previous entrants included Macbeth and Othello), where choreography, scenery, and emotions rather than dialogue have to suffice when bringing Shakespeare’s stories to life. Director Paata Tsikurishvili does a good job of streamlining the story, and most attendees will be familiar enough with the text to fill in any blanks for themselves. Though it’s clear early on that Romeo has a rival for Juliet’s affections in Paris (a gallant Scott Brown), the historic bad blood between the Capulets and the Montagues gets lost in translation until much later in the play, as the show emphasizes Romeo and Juliet’s courtship and initial connection instead.
Said lovers are played by Alex Mills and Natalie Berk. Mills’s Romeo is a dreamy, head-in-the-clouds hero, more of a lover than a fighter; Berk plays Juliet with a wide-eyed coquettishness. The pair’s eventual coupling is one of the most visually arresting scenes in Romeo & Juliet: sheets, flashing lights, and shadows are used to erotic effect to capture the lovers in sensual poses and movements as they consummate their relationship.
Though Romeo & Juliet is obviously a tragedy, Synetic’s production isn’t lacking in comic relief. This is chiefly provided by choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili in a ratcheted-up role as Juliet’s nurse, as well as Philip Fletcher, reprising his 2008 performance as a jester-like Mercutio. Both get their own moment to shine. Tsikurishvili’s is in a devilish, tumbling-driven fight scene in which the nurse attempts to deliver a message from Juliet to Romeo; Fletcher dominates one of the show’s opening scenes, where he teases his friend Romeo about his newfound infatuation, pantomiming with exaggerated womanliness.
Though a mere 90 minutes, Romeo & Juliet’s pacing stutters near the conclusion. The production’s final death scene isn’t as climactic as other routines, and it feels like the show is laboring to get there. But as the lights go down on the two dead lovers, a pendulum swinging in the background, Romeo & Juliet still delivers a final, ominous punch.
Romeo and Juliet runs through December 23 at Synetic’s Crystal City theater. Tickets ($45 to $50) are available through the Synetic Web site.