The theater is often synonymous with dialogue, but the synetic theater Poe’s madness explores what happens when the lines are erased. Entering its third decade, the acclaimed physical production house of Crystal City primarily uses movement to tell the story. (If physical theater is a new concept, think of it as a musical where songs are replaced by movement.) In that sense, Poe’s madness, which runs through October 31, is a well-designed production with limited lines and a thoughtful, gorgeous use of dance and props.
For its last iteration on Edgar Allen Poewritings of, Synetic revisited its 2007 production of The Fall of House Usher– the story of two twins driven mad by their family’s domain – and decided he was ripe for reinvention. As the name suggests, Poe’s madness is a kind of mashup, combining Bailiff’s House with perhaps the most famous work of Poe, The crow.
The 90-minute play opens with Poe (Ryan Sellers) asleep at his desk and dreaming as bird-like papers fly above his head. But the dream soon dissolves into a nightmare. The crow (Maryam najafzada), with a knack for scaling taller props, appears. His energy is both bird and mocking. The scene turns, Poe wakes up and he receives a letter from a friend asking him to visit the Usher House.
Things get really scary here, in part because Philippe Fletcher, who plays the Servant, brings seriousness Michael myers energy to its silent and imposing character. It is of him that the nightmares are made. While Roderick (Alex mills) appears both disturbed and predatory. The ensemble, played by Megan Khaziran, Chris galindo, Sean’s Flowers, and Ariel kraje, provide another quiet but noisy element of Gothic horror to the production. Their movement of synchronization and desynchronization channels the inhuman as they haunt the house and its inhabitants.
For those who aren’t quite familiar with the author’s 19th century American horror from Baltimore, Poe’s madness left a few plot holes and raised at least an eyebrow with moments of rape undertones (those same undertones exist in Poe’s Bailiff’s House). But the production really excels in its directing. Although the stage is modest in size and the props are simple, the use of both is a visual delight. From floating papers scribbled with text to windows and revolving shelves that transform into garden doors and gates, designer landscapes and properties Phil charlwood outdoes itself with almost transparent transitions. Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili Also receives applause for his excellent and weird dances which are thrilling to watch. Please note, Madam Madeline (Nutsa Tediashvili) imbues his movement with a range of emotions throughout the production, falling to the ground several times in seizure. She is captivating.
However, since the staging, choreography, and sound are so well done, it was especially troublesome when a few mishaps occurred. Visible ear cups, spanx and mic box sometimes broke the enchantment. Likewise, music builds up almost perfectly with tension (ask any horror lover, music can make a story – where would be Halloween Where Jaws be without those iconic chords?), so when the beat drops into nightclub electro during an unhappy love affair, it’s strangely shocking and moves away from the period that was so well put on stage.
Yet the production is perfectly timed for the season and admirably offers a level of thrill and thrill rarely seen in stage production. Plus, Synetic’s almost silent take on Poe’s stories offers a new and compelling way to view the author and his works. Fans of Poe, Gothic horror and those with a Gothic soul will be spellbound.
Poe’s madness at the Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell St., Arlington, until October 31. (703) 824-8060. synetictheater.org. $ 20 to $ 60.