- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Last season, Synetic company member Dan Istrate played the devil in “Faust” with virtuosic impudence. This fall, he masters another character of monumental ego, Victor Frankenstein, in Synetic’s operatic and visually triumphant adaptation of another classic, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Mr. Istrate is that rarest of creatures — an actor who can also dance. He dashingly executes Irina Tsikurishvili’s jagged and dizzying choreography, yet also affectingly conveys the conflicting emotions of a man of science who realizes that playing God comes with an awful burden.

Miss Shelley’s 1816 gothic chiller, with its mingling of medical ethics and supernatural terror, is a splendid match for Synetic’s cinematic, flagrantly dramatic style. The novel is woozy in its depiction of ratcheting horror, and everything about this stage production is, likewise, exquisitely exaggerated.

A matrix of twisted silver filaments hangs across Anastasia R. Simes’ set, signifying a curtain of ice or the chains that bind Victor Frankenstein to his earthly punishment — a nod to the novel’s subtitle, “The Modern Prometheus.” Streaks of light slash the stage like lightning bolts, and Miss Simes’ costumes are stark black and white. There are even dancing icebergs, which unfortunately put you in mind of the Stonehenge sequence from “This Is Spinal Tap.”

Victor Frankenstein practically pants with emotion over his discovery that science can toy with life and death, the heroines’ bosoms are a-heaving, and an angry mob swirls in and out of the action like a mad ballet. The Creature (Irakli Kavsadze) is at once pathetic and ghastly — an empty vessel that quickly fills with a honed rage for revenge. Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s approach is miles from understated, but the bold theatricality is enervating and exciting.

The Creature didn’t ask to be born — snatched from the hangman’s noose before his body was even cold — and he is anything but thankful for the gift of life. Nathan Weinberger and Mr. Tsikurishvili’s adaptation emphasizes the ambivalent relationship between father and son, as the Creature is dependent upon and horribly drawn to Victor Frankenstein.

In his infancy, the Creature is as clumsy as a colt, clinging to Victor and amusingly testing his brute strength. As his mind awakens, however, he struggles between wanting to destroy and to be loved by his creator. Mr. Kavsadze brings these scenes to glowing life, playing the Creature as something ceaselessly at war with itself, vulnerable and violent in the same breath.

Victor, on the other hand, is immediately repulsed by what he has spawned, knowing that his curiosity and ambition have taken him too far. His desperate attempt at a normal life — a hasty marriage to his childhood love, Elizabeth (Meghan Grady) — is thwarted by the unholy demands of the Creature, who also demands companionship as a balm to his misery.

“Frankenstein” is not a nonstop horror fest. For example, Mr. Tsikurishvili provides welcome moments of waggish levity as Professor Waldman, Victor’s mentor who takes nothing — not even medical breakthroughs — too seriously.

As one expects from Synetic, the visuals are frequently staggering. The opening scene, where ambitious explorer Captain Walton (Andrew Zox) and his men cautiously navigate their ship through the ice-choked northern waters, holds an eerie calmness. And the scene of the Creature’s birth sends shock waves through the audience by using only lighting and body contortions.

You may have seen “Frankenstein” dozens of times, but the audacious passion of Synetic’s adaptation gives it a jolt of new life.

***

WHAT: “Frankenstein,” adaptation by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger

WHERE: Synetic Theatre at the Terrace Theater, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

WHEN: Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Through Oct. 1.

TICKETS: $30

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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