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ArlingtonOn Stage: Synetic puts its stamp on classic tale of 'Cinderella'

On Stage: Synetic puts its stamp on classic tale of ‘Cinderella’

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by MATT REVILLE, for the Sun Gazette

Over its 20 years of existence, Synetic Theater has established something of a signature style.

Its productions frequently are light on dialogue and heavy on visceral appeal – music, other sound, lighting, movement all combine to provide an evocative experience for the audience.

Synetic’s latest production – a version of “Cinderella” that works well both for adults and kids – follows that playbook. And while sometimes the Synetic touch tends to strike regular attendees as repetitive, it’s all very fresh and creative in this show.

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Adapted by, directed by and starring Maria Simpkins in the title role, the show relates the Cinderella story as it has been passed down through the generations – through the help of a fairy godmother, she surmounts obstacles, including nasty family members, to become a princess.

The story “is so quintessential that it appears in cultures around the globe,” Simpkins said. “It has hundreds of names and has been adapted countless times, but at its core, it’s a story we [all] know.”

One caveat before proceeding: If attending with children younger than teens (and it’s certainly worthwhile to do so), it’s probably a good thing, as a help to them, to sketch out the Cinderella plot. The lack of dialogue, except for the occasional grunt or guffaw, might throw them off-kilter, so a quick pre-show primer will be helpful. And now back to our review …

The show is visually arresting and well-played throughout. Simpkins arrives on stage even as audience members are settling in (and being reminded to turn off those phones and keep those masks firmly affixed), performing her servant chores with cheerful panache.

But the good times don’t last long. She’s soon joined by her bossy stepfather (Robert Bowen Smith, looking elegantly macabre, a la John Waters) and stepsister (Covenant Babatunde, whose character almost assuredly leads the Mean Girls at the local school).

Over the course of time, Cindy – we’re close, I can call her “Cindy” – ends up doing the family laundry in the woods, where she runs into the prince (Pablo Guillen, whose character seems an eternally happy doofus – not necessarily a bad way to go through life).

A little later, the prince sends out his chief factotum (Irene Hamilton, seemingly born to play the role) with invitations to a ball where the prince hopes to find his princess. Even Cinderella is handed an invitation, but it is torn up by her malicious family members.

With the help of her fairy godmother – Karina Hilleard wearing an outfit that may well have come right out of Cyndi Lauper’s closet circa 1986, and I say that with delight – Cinderella is transformed into a vision of loveliness, makes her way to the ball and, well, you know the rest.

The show clocks in a little over an hour, give or take, making it appropriate even for the younger set. And there are a number of laugh-out-loud moments, too.

Credit to Janine Baumgardner (choreography, particularly in terms of an uproarious dance scene), Konstantine Lortkipanidze (composer), Aleksandr Shiriaev (scenic design), Moyenda Kulemeka (costumes), Ian Claar (lighting), J.J. Nichols (sound) and Emily Carbone (props). Their work created an effective ambiance for the performers to run through their paces, which were nonstop from start to final bows.

In her “director’s notes,” Simpkins provides a little background as to what her adaptation seeks to address from a social-consciousness standpoint. It’s worth a read and some contemplation. But the show stands strongly on its own as pure entertainment, as well.

“Cinderella” runs through Dec. 26 at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell St. in Crystal City. For tickets and information, see the Website at www.synetictheater.org.

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