- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

The road to Hell is paved with good inventions in Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy.”

Sin and corruption become this movement-based, startlingly physical theater troupe under the direction of Synetic. This version of Dante’s poetic masterpiece dwells mostly in Inferno but gives us a brief glimpse of Purgatory and Paradise in the beatific, cleansing denouement.

Aided by Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s clashing and moody soundscape, Mr. Tsikurishvili’s vision of damnation is a place of disturbing sexuality, menace, retribution and almost unspeakable sadness. Synetic makes it a great place to visit for 90 minutes, but you certainly wouldn’t want to spend eternity there.

Dante’s famed rings of Hell are brought to surreal life in a series of 12 vivid scenes that combine the teeming, nightmarish tableaux of Asia. Headless demons, crab-walking wraiths, tortured beings devouring themselves, tattered souls, misshapen creatures and multiarmed divinities are all portrayed by an impeccably limber ensemble of actors and dancers.

In the center of the miasma is Dante (played with exquisite sensitivity by Greg Marzullo) offers to guide him through the underworld to see what happens to those who choose such selfish acts.

Portrayed by Mr. Marzullo as an exotic and seductive conjurer, both a tutor and a fellow lost soul, Virgil takes Dante on a tour of Hell filled with such voluptuous, venal imagery that your eye almost cannot take it all in. Some of the most memorable visions are of a Bishop (Chris Galindo) — advocates of justice may be happy to note that there is a gruesomely appropriate fate for pedophile priests — being dragged slowly across the stage by a rope, lustful sinners dominated by a horned and half-naked belly dancer, and a vision of gluttony that features slithering creatures that glisten like fat globules before being stuffed down a grease trap.

Greed is portrayed comically and monstrously as an endless and burdensome numbers game, and the depressed and suicidal are trapped in the glare of flashlights, where their unrelentingly gray visages are inescapable.

As mesmerizing as the scenes of damnation are, the show is leavened by visions of the idealized Beatrice, who is aided in saving Dante by an angel (Vato Tsikurishvili) who is not above balletic street combat in the name of redemption.

For all the shocking and rich imagery, Synetic’s “Dante” ultimately is one man’s search for his soul and his self. Dante sees parts of himself in the cheaters, the manipulators, the craven and the despairing that he meets in the underworld. The rings of Hell do not exist outside ourselves, but deeply and darkly within.

★★★★

WHAT: “Dante,” an adaptation of Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” by Ben Cunis, Nathan Weinberger and Paata Tsikurishvili

WHERE: Synetic Theater at Rosslyn Spectrum Theater, 1611 N. Kent St., Arlington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through March 22

TICKETS: $35 to $45

PHONE: 800/494-8497

WEB SITE: www.synetictheater.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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