- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Winter’s icy streets and whipping winds make lummoxes of us all, but you’ll really feel like a clodhopper after taking in the arrowy grace of the performers in Synetic Theater’s production of “The Crackpots,” a world premiere stage adaptation of the 1973 Soviet film, “Sherekelebi.”

Using balletic movement and mime techniques, the supple cast seems to effortlessly portray everything from farm crops to chickens and a cinematic array of human characters. Their movements are so cleanly etched and precise that dialogue sometimes seems superfluous.

“The Crackpots” is written and directed by renowned Georgian director Rezo Gabriadze and is a fantastical allegory about liberation and realizing your dreams — no matter how absurd they may seem. When the movie was made, it carried a political message about personal freedom that peeped through the crazy antics and double entendres.

It is a picaresque tale of a young man, Ertaoz (Greg Marzullo), a bumpkin in a polka-dot shirt, whose life goes from idyllic to difficult after the death of his father. Determined to repay his father’s numerous debts, Ertaoz travels to the big city. He promptly falls in love with the delectably flirty Margarita (Catherine Gasta), who is happily married but still not above whooping it up with the men seeking her favors. One of the enamored is Khura (Irakli Kavsadze), the police chief, whose goose-stepping and widely mustachioed goofy grin is a silent movie in itself — one conceivably starring Charlie Chaplin.

Khura may be a comic figure, but he is dead serious about Margarita. When Ertaoz’s proclamations of love land him in prison, he meets fellow inmate Kristefore (Paata Tsikurishvili), who is serving a 48-year sentence for the same crime of adoring a beautiful woman. The philosophical scientist has used his time wisely — inventing a “giant hen” that flies.

The two men escape prison, only to be recaptured by a local doctor (Nathan Weinberger), who places them in an asylum where he can better study their insanity.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Ertaoz and Kristefore’s huge, Rube Goldberg-esque flying machine takes flight and they soar off into the heavens.

The fanciful plot leaves plenty of room for comic invention, ranging from the police chief’s floppy-footed military exercises with his minions to Kristefore revealing that he has dug a seven-mile tunnel out of the cell with a spoon, only to find out that the tunnel leads back to the prison. There is terrific scene involving a wonderfully expressive chicken (Nicholas I. Allen), who executes hilarious kung fu — not to be confused with kung pao — moves during a skirmish with the police.

“The Crackpots” is performed with a clownish air, but there are ample moments of grace. In the beginning, a joyful harvest dinner is seamlessly transformed into a funeral feast. And, when Ertaoz and Kristefore finally get the machine up and running, which involves much flapping of enormous homemade wings, the sight is miraculous and stirring.

The lecture hall atmosphere and bare-bones stage of the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater does not give Synetic much to work with. They pull off the seemingly impossible (one quibble is that the rinky-dink music either sounds like a Russian cartoon or background to soft porn), with “The Crackpots” creating a magical circus world where the performers move with acrobatic litheness, and where the absurd becomes possible.

***1/2

WHAT: “The Crackpots” by Rezo Gabriadze

WHERE: Synetic Theater, Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, Arlington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 8.

TICKETS: $25 to $32

PHONE: 202/462-5364

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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