Irina Kavsadze (Juliet) and Zana Gankhuyag (Romeo) in Synetic Theater's Romeo and Juliet, directed and adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili.
Irina Kavsadze (Juliet) and Zana Gankhuyag (Romeo) in Synetic Theater's Romeo and Juliet, directed and adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili.
(© Johnny Shryock)

Synetic Theater's new Romeo and Juliet offers a stunning, panoramic image of a Verona where the grand houses of Montague and Capulet are at war. It also simultaneously displays the cultural elements that hold a society together: a mother's love for her daughter, a nurse's adoration of her ward, and, of course, young love. Synetic has produced Romeo and Juliet before, but the cast here is new, as is the theme — of time slipping away from the young lovers.

The familiar story of "star-crossed lovers" who adore one another from the moment they meet, Romeo and Juliet's lives are complicated by the fact that their families are bitter enemies. Through the services of Juliet's nurse and Romeo's friend Friar Laurence, the lovers manage to marry in secret, but their life together is short- lived, ending in their mutual deaths.

Irina Kavsadze is delightful as the young Juliet, who is tired of having everything in her life, down to her hair, arranged by her father and mother. Kavsadze is an excellent dancer, and her extended, lyrical pas de deux with Romeo (Zana Gankhuyag) is one reason their love at first sight is credible. Gankhuyag makes an impressive, passionate Romeo. He, too, is a well-trained dancer, and once he sees Juliet, every fiber of his being seems trained on making her his own.

The supporting cast also delivers solid performances. Mercutio is played with humor by Philip Fletcher. Ryan Sellars portrays Juliet's cousin Tybalt as something of a rake, always ready for a fight.

Irakli Kavsadze plays Friar Laurence, a mournful figure, who is critical to the happiness of the young lovers. Kathy Gordon is charming as Juliet's sprightly nurse, dedicated to keeping her ward where she should be, yet willing to be the messenger between Juliet and Romeo.

Lord and Lady Capulet are played with great flourish by Chris Galindo and Katherine Frattini, respectively. Paris, Juliet's older betrothed, is portrayed as a rather stuffy, upper-crust gentleman by Randy Snight. The excellent ensemble of dancers includes Scott Turner, Janine Baumgardner, and Eliza Smith.

Director and adapter Paata Tsikurishvili keeps the action moving swiftly, from the first gathering of Italian nobles at a masked ball where Romeo sneaks in with his friend Mercutio until the final recognition of Juliet's death. Two high points of this production are spectacular parkour-inspired fights that follow in quick succession. The first fight between Mercutio and Tybalt, where Mercutio is killed. The second is a battle for revenge between Romeo and Tybalt, in which Romeo survives. There are only a few moments when Tsikurishvili's actors aren't moving at warp speed, dancing, leaping, and flinging themselves at one another.

Anastasia Simes' set is built around a huge pendulum hanging in the center of the stage, while on the back wall of the stage are clock gears of different sizes, ticking simultaneously. To further push the metaphor of time along, ensemble members twirlarge gears around the stage, at one point even surrounding Romeo and Juliet.

In addition to all manner of ticks and tocks and buzzers and bells by sound designers Irakli Kavsadze and Konstantine, Lortkipanidze, Romeo and Juliet'' also features original music by Lortkipanidze, a combination of his signature electronic style as well as dance music, and even a Latin chant.

Also pulling doubleduty is Sime, who, in addition to sets, acted as costume designer for this production, offering a fanciful take on 16th-century clothing. Juliet is costumed in a turquoise dress with a tight bodice and long flowing skirt. Romeo wears a loose-fitting white silk shirt over black tights and boots. The members of the court wear elegant, brocaded long silk garments, in brilliant yellows, golds, and blues.

What elevates this Romeo and Juliet is choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili's threading of dance so completely throughout the production, that you feel as if you are watching another genre entirely. In addition to the extraordinary, high-stepping court dances and the ballet danced by Juliet and Romeo, Irina consistently uses other principals and the ensemble to express the play's mood through movement.

The charm of this Romeo and Juliet is in how the look, feel, lighting, and music all smoothly coalesce in a new and vital way. As in the best Shakespearean productions, it offers a fresh perspective on well-known characters and plot and an inventive manner that helps to underscore the role of time in this familiar tragedy.