The first time a friend invited me to see a show at Synetic, I rolled my eyes, but went along. I’ve seen some of my favorite shows by saying yes to invitations I didn’t think I was interested in. This was no exception. The show was Romeo and Juliet, which I had just finished directing at Pigeon Creek Shakespeare. Because my knowledge of the text was at its peak, I was able to notice the remarkable textual commitment of this wordless production. There were moments where a specific metaphor or rhetorical structure I knew was in the text was instead expressed through the movement. I was completely blown away.
When I heard they were remounting their renowned production of The Tempest, I knew I had to go. I showed my kids a video trailer for it, and they insisted that they should come, too. And then I talked my mom and stepdad into coming along, because why not?
We were all just astounded by this production. There are not words for how extraordinary it was. Definitely one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
The whole stage is flooded with about five inches of water, and the actors play in it, sliding on their bellies, splashing it, smacking it, scooping it. There’s also a water slide, a piano fountain (which actors “play” by plucking streams of water), and rain. The first three rows were the “splash zone,” and audience members wore complimentary ponchos.
The movement work was just unreal. I kept wondering how they were able to do some of their movements safely. The whole thing looked like a slippery disaster waiting to happen, but the performers were absolutely clear and sure in their work–I never felt that anyone was in danger. The movement work was just stunning. The performers had such deep connection to each other, focus and trust. There’s nothing I love better onstage.
They regendered a few of the characters–Prospera, Antonia, etc. I don’t love regendering, although I adore cross-gendered casting. I think it changes the story unnecessarily. But in this case, the performers took those shifts on with commitment and ownership. It did change the story, but in ways that provoked my curiosity.
They made a slight improvement on Shakespeare. Where he has an unfortunately lengthy bit of exposition, this company, being wordless, had no choice but to show, rather than tell, the backstory. This was the only part I had to whisper to explain to my family–the idea that it was a flashback was confusing if you didn’t know the story.
I loved that they invested deeply in the beauty, the trauma, and also the comedy that Shakespeare gives us. Working with Shakespeare, one big danger is when directors, particularly, don’t trust him to be funny and deep in the same play. This production’s clowns were a highlight. I thought my kids were going to pass out, they were laughing so hard at the bit with the gaberdine.
Everyone walked out of the theater buzzing with excitement, declaring it entirely worth the drive and the late night. I would love to see a “making of” special on this play–they were doing things that I couldn’t figure out, and I want to know more! But also, what an extraordinary experience just to see it.