- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2005

Three words you never thought you’d hear from this critic: “More mime, please.” Bring on pretentious, white-gloved Frenchmen in striped T-shirts performing “the box” or pretending to be caught in an invisible wind tunnel.

Let’s hear it for butoh and Blue Man Group, and isn’t it high time for a Shields and Yarnell revival? Anything to keep mimes from having their say. Movement-based theater, or mime, is the supermodel of art forms: The illusion is usually shattered when the icon speaks.

In the case of Synetic Theater’s ambitious production of “Jason and the Argonauts,” the problem begins when many of the cast members open their mouths. The actors possess sinuous command of their body language, and the movement is exquisitely controlled and inspired. Vocally, though, they call to mind the “talkies” of the 1920s when the career of silent film star John Gilbert was ruined when it was discovered that his voice was more of a squeak than a manly rumble.

Silence is as golden as the fleece in “Jason,” where the addition of absurdly pompous dialogue adds little to Synetic Theater’s trademark blend of eye-popping visuals and an enveloping soundscape of music and ambient noise. And it doesn’t help that these starchy mouthfuls are uttered by people more glib with a visual vocabulary than with the written word.

Synetic’s “Jason” draws from classic Greco-Roman sources and from a 19th-century adaptation by Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer. The troupe also looks to its Georgian roots, where Medea is a legendary figure not for her infanticide but for her healing skills.

Her name is linked to the Georgian word for medicine — “medikosi.” The heroics and missteps of Jason (Greg Marzullo) and his Argonauts mostly take second billing to the Medea (Irina Tsikurishvili), portrayed as a shamanistic medicine woman who is both feared and desired. She is truly a goddess — capable of great destruction and great healing.

Her father, King Aetes (Irakli Kavsadze), and brother Absyrtus (Nicholas Allen) are afraid of Medea and try to control her through familial obligations. This works for a time, until Jason arrives in Colchis, an area in western Georgia known during the Greek and Roman empires for its gold. The ancient Georgians used sheepskins to sift flecks of gold from running water, hence the root of Jason’s association with the Golden Fleece.

Jason does not as much want to control Medea as he wants to possess her. He uses her attraction to him for his own devices — to help him get the Golden Fleece, which is guarded by a dragon. In Synetic’s version, the Golden Fleece is not mere riches but a cause for madness and murder to anyone who comes in contact with it.

Seized by a cursed love for Jason, Medea leaves her homeland and family, only to find exile and xenophobic unwelcome everywhere she goes. They finally land in Greece, Golden Fleece in hand, where Jason is embraced but Medea and her children are not.

Any follower of ancient myth knows what happens next, and director Paata Tsikurishvili handles the murders of the children with graceful tact. The children are represented by wisps of white cloth that Medea cradles and caresses before hanging each one by a swaying noose. The visual effect of the cloths hanging limply in the air is simple and devastating.

Synetic’s genius with visual metaphors extends to other aspects of the production — the rendering of the ship Argos with twisted bodies and twists of rope, the cast perfectly replicating the dreamy, hypnotic roll of the sea. Ropes are used throughout the show, symbolizing fate, which entraps and makes puppets of us all.

Miss Tsikurishvili makes an exotic and strange Medea, a woman almost supernatural in her sternness and certainty. She is one of the finer aspects of “Jason and the Argonauts,” a production that is kept earthbound by its uneasy mingling of the visual and the literal.

**

WHAT: “Jason and the Argonauts,” adapted by Suzen Mason

WHERE: Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, 1611 N. Kent St., Arlington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 26.

TICKETS: $27 to $39

PHONE: 703/824-8060

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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