Taylor Robinson as Rosalind and Philip Fletcher as Orlando in Synetic Theater's As You Like It, directed by Paata Tsikurishvili.
Taylor Robinson as Rosalind and Philip Fletcher as Orlando in Synetic Theater's As You Like It, directed by Paata Tsikurishvili.
(© Johnny Shryock)

The 12th Wordless Shakespeare show of Synetic Theater is a spirited comedy, which takes place in a postmodern, dystopian scene, vastly unlike the usual idyllically depicted Forest of Arden. Director Paata Tsikurishvili takes liberties with the script of As You Like It – scenes and characters are cut, miscellaneous business is added – but the basic structure of Shakespeare's play remains, including all the instances of mistaken identity and misunderstandings of gender.

The story is built around two generations of good and bad men. When their father dies, the evil Oliver robs his good brother, Orlando, of his inheritance and forces him to work as a waiter at the Duke Senior's house. Meanwhile, Orlando and the Duke's daughter, Rosalind, have met and fallen in love. When the Duke's evil brother Frederick seizes power, the Duke Senior is forced to flee from court. Rosalind goes too, as does her best friend and cousin, Celia, along with the Duke's bodyguard, Touchstone, and finally Orlando.

When he stumbles into Arden Street, the Duke Senior encounters some bohemian artists, who convince him to stay. Rosalind and Celia are urged by Touchstone to disguise themselves, to avoid being attacked by the city's feral inhabitants, so Rosalind transforms herself into a boy named Ganymede. When Rosalind first sees Orlando in Arden, he is despondent over losing Rosalind. Still, she doesn't reveal her identity right away. Soon an exotic dancer named Phebe falls in love with Rosalind/Ganymede. All seems to be lost until Oliver is attacked by the feral street people and is rescued by Orlando, the brothers are reconciled, Rosalind's real identity is revealed, and Phebe goes back to her boyfriend, Silvius.

Taylor Robinson is perfect as Rosalind. Her dancing skills clearly come into play in the tremendous number of dances in this production. She is also an excellent comedian, capable of all the foolery and mugging built into the role. Sharisse Taylor is hilarious as Celia, Rosalind's best friend and a good foil for her as well. Philip Fletcher is marvelous as Orlando — proud, strong, and faithful. Scott Turner, sporting a 5-inch high Mohawk haircut, is convincing as an extreme bad boy. Irakli Kavsadze is powerful in the dual roles of Duke Frederick and Duke Senior. Laura Artesi is very credible as Phebe, doing some effective pole dancing to attract Rosalind's attention. Zana Gankhuyak energetically plays her jealous boyfriend. The Seven Ages of Man speech is mimed clearly by Scott Brown.

Kendra Rai's costumes visually fill in the holes in the text. In court, Rosalind and Celia wear very feminine, matching short, sparkly, fringed dresses. Not long afterward, they are dressed as men. Anastasia Simes' set design begins with crimson and gold silk curtains to give the illusion of an elegant court. The curtains are torn down when the main characters set out for the wilderness. The forest itself is a place of leftovers: an old car without wheels, ripped, and discarded clothes, and huge metal oil drums. The music of Konstantine Lortkipanidze (the resident composer) is always an asset to Synetic productions, but here he's particularly important. Mingling his brand of charging electronic chords with clear, single guitar or piano tones, Lortkipanidze creates an atmosphere of 21st-century harmonics that fits perfectly into the grimy Arden Street. The music is particularly effective when matched to choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili's high-kicking, foot-stomping dance routines. The only jarring element in the production is the heavy use of guns in Act 1.

In the end, though the characters still may not be able to go home again, there is no way to deny that this Arden is a wretched concrete jungle, full of broken glass and broken dreams. But through the process of the play, love triumphs, we're rewarded with multiple weddings, and we get the story "as we like it" — a comedy through and through.