by MATT REVILLE, for the Sun Gazette
It was touch-and-go there for a while, as Synetic Theater’s planned production of “The Servant of Two Masters” fell victim not once but twice to COVID.
But the troupe kept the faith, and is now staging its interpretation of the Carlo Goldoni work from the late 1700s that was one of the last great commedia dell’arte works.
Fans of early motion pictures might notice some similarities, too.
“I’ve always been inspired by the slapstick of the great silent-film commedians – Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and, most of all, Charlie Chaplin,” said Vato Tsikurishvili, who adapted the script, directed the production and performs as Truffaldino, a hobo who as at the heart of the show.
“‘Servant’ is the perfect vehicle to bring that particular brand of spectacular and purely physical comedy to the Synetic stage – a satire on society at large,” Tsikurishvili said. “All these characters are larger than life, but for all their bigness and broadness, they speak quiet, essential truths than we can all recognize.”
As the plot unfolds, Truffaldino becomes the servant to two lovers who have lost track of one another but end up at the same hotel. Add in an enthusiastic maid, an aggressive chef and yet another pair of star-crossed lovers, and you’ve got 90 minutes of mayhem performed by a cast of eight.
Synetic’s acclaimed style is on full display here: The show is effectively wordless, with a barrage (in the good sense) of visual stimulation through constant action, choreography and music. There’s plenty of humor and just enough pathos to make it a true commedia dell’arte work.
But that style for which Synetic is known can be a double-edged sword for the troupe. More than one patron has scaled back attendance, as the shows, despite their creativity, sometimes have a sameness about them. For that part of the Synetic audience, one or two shows a year is enough to satiate the appetite.
Without trying to untangle the many plot lines that play out during the expansive single act, let me salute the cast, which in addition to Tskikurshvili includes Jacob Thompson, Nutsa Tediashvili, Maryam Najafzada, Irene Hamilton, Pablo Guillen, Philip Fletcher and Delbis Cardona. Each had some time in the spotlight, and none let the audience down.
Najafzada also was responsible for the intricate choreography, while Kontstantine Lortkipanidze serves as composer, Phil Charlwood as scenic designer, Aleksandr Shiriaev as costume designer, Brian Allard as lighting designer, Yaritza Pacheco as sound designer and Emily Carbone as props designer.
“Servant” maintains a frenetic pace, although at some points headed into the home stretch it did seem to drag, as if it had been padded to extend its length. But it ended strong, leaving the audience upbeat headed out of the theater. So no complaints.
Two asides before departing:
• First, Synetic put together a very good synopsis of the show as part of the playbill. My suggestion: It would be beneficial to send that to ticketholders when they also receive the troupe’s e-mail about parking, COVID rules, etc., a couple of days before showtime. Committing the plot to memory, or at least glancing over it a few times, in advance would enhance the overall experience, as there are multiple plot threats in constant motion. (Long-time local theater-goers remember the materials put together for American Century Theater productions. Marvelous aids for the audience, they were.)
• Second, online at synetictheater.org, there’s a fun quiz that, after you’ve selected the answers offers to all the questions – your favorite movie, your favorite part of a shopping mall, what your dream job would be (“billionaire” was an option, so I went with that) – the computer determines which character in the play you are most like. You can take the quiz at https://synetictheater.org/servant-quiz/. My theatrical doppelganger turned out to be none other Truffaldino, the central character. “Sometimes you take on more than you can chew, but oh do you love a good snack! You’re a lover, not a fighter, and you never stop working for what you want,” I was informed. Fair enough.
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“The Servant of Two Masters” continues through April 26 at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell St. in Crystal City. Patrons must show proof of vaccination and remain masked except while eating or drinking during the show.
For information, see the Website at www.synetictheater.org.