Incest, vampirism, drug addiction, madness — what could be more entertaining? The master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, includes all this and more in his creepy classic, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which is imbued with a lush, disturbing sensibility in Synetic Theater’s darkly atmospheric adaptation by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger.
Synetic’s penchant for striking images and effortless sensuality is a perfect match for Poe’s gothic tale about the doomed, romantic artist Roderick Usher (Greg Marzullo), his mysteriously ill sister Madeline (Irina Koval), and the crumbling house that imprisons them in its fetid embrace.
Alarmed by his deteriorating mental state, Roderick sends for his friend Edgar (Theodore M. Snead) to distract him and perhaps cheer up his sister, who suffers from some type of catalepsy. Edgar, who also narrates the tale, rushes to the decaying estate but instead of rescuing his friend, he finds himself drawn into the house’s intoxicating torpor and decadence. As played by an undulating troupe of actors (Courtney Pauroso, Ben Cunis, Marissa Molnar, Renata Loman, Scott Brown), the house — it’s alive, it’s alive — moans, sighs, shape-shifts and never, ever sleeps.
Madeline winds herself around Edgar like a velvet ribbon upon first meeting him — she executes a similar Salome-like seductive dance with her brother that more than hints at an incestuous union. Miss Koval’s lithe frame and severe visage create a complex character, one that is at once ephemeral and astonishingly corporeal. Mr. Marzullo is the very portrait of a tortured Romantic poet — obsessive, sensitive and keenly aware of the effects of melancholy and madness.
Edgar is seduced by Madeline, but cannot save her. When she appears to have succumbed to illness, Roderick insists that she be interred in a glass coffin before burial. Premature burial is a recurring theme in Poe’s works, and “The Fall of the House of Usher” contains one of his most harrowing scenes, as Madeline wakes up and claws at the walls of the coffin while the mourners remain oblivious to her state. Synetic’s rendering of this scene is particularly compelling — a vivid, balletic nightmare choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili that has Madeline silently, frantically writhing inside the coffin as the pallbearers slowly cart her off to the burial site.
Madeline and her brother reunite for a final, frenzied death dance, which fulfills Roderick’s dark prophecy that the Usher family is so diseased, body and soul, that the bloodlines must end with them. As they take their last breaths, the house dies with them, collapsing with stony groans and writhes into the ground. The House of Usher is quiet at last.
It’s all very crepuscular and compelling, and the mood is enhanced by Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original score, heavy on the strings and brooding organ music.
Synetic’s signature melding of supple, winding bodies, billowing fabric, and cinematic pacing bring Poe’s short story to shuddery life and shows us how gleaming the dark side can be.
WHAT: “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger
WHERE: Synetic Theater at Rosslyn Spectrum, 1611 North Kent St., Arlington
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 31.
TICKETS: $15 to $35
WEB SITE: www.synetictheater.org
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS