Synetic’s ‘Host and Guest’ is driven by movement, not dialogue

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It’s ironic that in Synetic Theater’s revival of its 2002 work “Host and Guest” – a motion-rich rebuke of humanity’s propensity for violence and hatred – the most compelling moments evoke such inclinations. . The dialogue can feel stiff in this tale of warring clans and brave loyalty; the mourning scenes can seem heavy. Yet in nimble, fast, and ingeniously choreographed sequences, slaughter and revenge come to life.

Battles erupt in flames of staffs, shields and bodies. When vengeful warriors don armor, their pull, strap, and shoulder gestures make for a mesmerizing dance. Skinning and dismembering a deer, a task shared by two hunters, takes place in a vigorous pas de deux. Such physical feats, executed by virtuoso and seemingly fearless performers, have long been Synetic’s signature and forte.

But unlike the wordless adaptations of literary classics for which the company is particularly known, the spoken word has its place in “Host and Guest,” adapted by playwright Roland L. Reed from a 19th-century narrative poem by Vazha Pshavela. Led by Synetic Artistic Director Paata Tsikurishvili, a native of Georgia, the homeland of Pshavela, this iteration of “host and guest” that has traveled internationally occasionally does right to dialogue. In the central role of Joqola, a hunter who shows hospitality to a stranger from an enemy clan, with terrible consequences, Dan Istrate displays fierce movement, but also speaks with a passion on the spot.

As another war rages, Synetic Theater spins up a cautionary tale

As Joqola’s wife, Agaza, Irina Tsikurishvili (also a choreographer and founder of Synetic with her husband, Paata) handles gestures of mourning and heartfelt talk quite well. But other discussions on the show land with a thump. Vato Tsikurishvili deserves praise as the show’s fight choreographer, and as Joqola’s guest, Zviadauri, his physique is dazzling. In a gripping scene of wine-fueled revelry, for example, Zviadauri and Joqola leap and hang in the air like apostrophes.

But Zviadauri’s brief poetic discourse on mountainside hunting sounds woodsy. Elsewhere in the cast, Philip Fletcher, playing a murderous man named Mula, allows melodramatic hokeyness to creep into a ceremonial incantation in a graveyard.

Overall, the mountain and other story locations pull it off better than words: Phil Charlwood’s spare stage design, anchored by a spike of spiky scaffolding, greets the show while striking a note suitably disturbing. Sometimes the performers themselves evoke the landscape, as when, with branch-like sticks in hand, they transform into a windswept forest prowled by a graceful deer (Maryam Najafzada). Costumes by Carolan Corcoran, dramatic lighting by Brian Allard, moody music by Vato Kakhidze, and sound design by Irakli Kavsadze add atmosphere. (Sets, costumes, and production design have been updated for this revival.)

Yet with its single focus on humanity’s habit of violence and blood feud, “Host and Guest” feels dulled in a way Synetic’s best shows don’t. This franchise registers despite – and perhaps because of – the series’ undeniable advisability in a moment of bitter division and war. This iteration of “Host and Guest” carries its relevance as weight, sometimes carried by butchery-inspired visions.

Host and Guest, a play by Roland L. Reed based on the poem by Vazha Pshavela; management, Paata Tsikurishvili. With Irakli Kavsadze (also assistant director), Nutsa Tediashvili and others. About 80 mins. $25 to $65. Until October 2 at 1800 South Bell St., Arlington. synetictheater.org.


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