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A CurtainUp DC Review
by Rich See
Theater J and Synetic Theater have joined forces to explore the supernatural in this adaptation of S. Anski's classic work The Dybbuk. The result is a theatrical dance performance that is energetic and emotionally touching.
Originally titled by S. Anski (real name Shloyme Zanvl Rapoport) as Between Two Worlds, the play is a ghost story about a young bride who is possessed by the spirit of her recently departed beloved. Chonnon is a highly respected talmudic scholar who is in love with Leah, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Sender, Leah's father, is seeking a wealthy husband for the woman, and while he respects Chonnon and even invites the young man to repeatedly dine with his family, he does not consider Chonnon as a suitable candidate. In fact, Sender is completely blind to the fact that Leah and Chonnon have fallen deeply in love with each other.
In an attempt to find a way to stop Sender from marrying Leah to anyone else, Chonnon turns to the mystical study of Kabbalah. After continued fasting and spending long hours alone reading archaic texts, he finally achieves his goal of becoming one with God and dies in a mystical epiphany.
Leah's marriage to the son of a wealthy merchant is subsequently arranged and on the day of her betrothal she goes to pray at her mother's grave and invite her late parent to the wedding. While at the cemetery, she also visits the grave of Chonnon and invites him to the wedding as well. It is here at his grave side as she calls to him to "rise up"; his soul, in the form of a dybbuk (possessive spirit), enters her body and melds with her soul.
Looking strange and disoriented, but happy to be with her beloved, Leah goes back to her home and wreaks havoc on the pre-marriage celebration. A rabbi is called to diagnose her troubles and it is soon revealed that she is possessed and that Sender is in some way partially responsible for his daughter's state.
This adaptation, written by Synetic's artistic director Paata Tsikurishvili and Theatre J's Literary Director Hannah Hessel, melds the symbolic dance that is Synetic trademark with Theater J's interest in bringing literary works to the stage. What has been created is a dark and haunting performance that takes the audience into a world of unseen forces impacting the lives of the living.
Anastasia Ryurikov Simes' set is a bare, dark space with a wonderful vision that ends the piece. Colin Bills' lighting creates some wonderful effects which highlight Irina Tsikurishvili's dazzling choreography.
Andrew Zox is a sympathetic Chonnon for Ms. Tsikurishvili's Leah, who shines during the exorcism scene. Irakli Kavsadze brings humor to the his role as the doting and worrying father, Sender. He's not a bad guy; he is just blinded by his desire to secure Leah's future.
Director Paata Tsikurishvili has created some interesting effects to bring about the supernatural aspects of the production, which moves very quickly. The character development within the story is created through the choreographed movement, so the verbal lines are really devised to connect the various dance sequences.
The only stumbling points in the production are: the symbolism of the first dance is somewhat unclear as to its context within the story; the length of the marriage celebration dance breaks up the anticipation developing over Leah's possession, and the choice of music for Chonnon's ecstatic death is oddly tame for a moment of Divine connection.
Other than those minor points, this production is well done and a coup for both theaters. I highly recommend grabbing a ticket and enjoying this ghostly tale.