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Host and Guest
by Rich See
Once again Synetic Theater has created a dream-like vision of Russian literature that melds movement and voice into a symbolism drenched treat for the senses. This time the young company has tackled resident playwright Roland Reed's adaptation of Vazha Pshavela's classic poem Host and Guest. The end product is a riveting, moving spectacle that brings the pathos of war to life.
Written at the turn of the 20th century, Pshavela's story centers around two men -- one Christian, the other Muslim -- and the friendship that develops between them, despite the hatred that exists between their respective cultures. When one man's village breaks its sacred custom regarding the sanctity of guests within the village's walls, the entire countryside is soaked in blood and two communities are shattered by the violence of war. Considering what is happening all over the world -- in Russia, in Israel, in Iraq, in Africa -- this is a timely piece that is just as true today as it was one hundred years ago.
Director Paata Tsikurishvili has taken his small company and pulled out an exactly timed piece of movement theatre. Through creative interpretations and full use of his 14-member cast to create a dynamic story, he transports the audience to a time and place of vicious survival, a place that for all of our 21st century trappings, we haven't really moved very far away from. He's shown the utter waste of war and how similar disparate cultures are by using the same cast members to represent both villages. Thus with simple changes of hats, we see that the women still wait for their husbands' returns, the men still love their wives, the children still need parents -- no matter what side of an issue one is on. At the basic level, we are all human with human needs wanting basically the same things in life.
While highly symbolic, the performance is fairly easy to follow. And a side note here is that the more you see Synetic performances, the more quickly you are able to understand the symbolism the theatre is utilizing to represent simple ideas. Thus if you have seen a Synetic performance before, then when staffs are being swayed by kneeling actors -- you immediately realize that these are reeds or tall grasses blowing in the wind.
Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili has once again created a quickly moving, intense dance piece, mixing folk, modern, and ballet into a whirling mixture of shades of black interspersed with intermittent color due to Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili's dark stage and costume design. Colin Bills' lighting design diffuses wonderful overtones with stark reality. And Vato Kakhidze's original music is ethereal, at times Celtic-tinged and at others robustly stirring. It's a shame Synetic doesn't sell a CD of their productions' musical scores, since the musical selections for each show are so compelling. This piece also includes works by Giya Kanchelli and several Georgian folk songs.
Many of Synetic's usual company members are present within Host and Guest. Standing out due to the larger parts they play are: Greg Marzullo, Irakli Kavsadze, Irina Tsikurishvili, Armand Sindoni, and Joel Ruben Ganz. Marzullo plays Joqola, the Host from the title, who invites the great warrior Zviadauri (the title's Guest played by Kavsadze) into his village and home, not realizing that this is the man who killed his brother-in-law and has caused so much suffering to his tribe. Being a man of incredible poise and confidence he is prepared to defend his guest to the very death in order to stand by his promise of safety to this stranger he met while on a hunting expedition. Kavsadze's Zviadauri, for his part, is a man who is beginning to see that these people he has hated with such violence are in many ways just like his own tribe. This is Pshavela's under core -- while wars are fought by countries, understanding and compassion is gained by individuals interacting face to face. Marzullo does a wonderful job of creating a man of dignity and ethics whose weakness is in giving his tribesmen too much credit. Kavsadze plays Zviadauri with a disarming charm covering a leery wariness. The two create the needed repertoire that is required to make the story believable. Irina Tsikurishvili's Aghaza, Joqola's eventually shunned wife, imparts her role with a fear and trepidation fitting a woman who is being haunted by ghosts, chased by wolves, and driven to the brink of despair by her countrymen. Armand Sindoni's The Mullah drips with a politically motivated evil and Joel Ruben Ganz's Musa is a voice of high-minded, blinded tribal loyalty who initiates the entire sequence of tragic events that consumes both villages.
Having just returned from New York City's International Fringe Festival with glowing reviews and an impending New York residency later in the season, Washington audiences should appreciate Synetic while they can. And with this production so timely in world current events, just prior to a presidential election being watched around the globe, Host and Guest provides more than entertainment, it offers something to ponder.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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