The Katzen Arts Center may become AU’s new international hub.
Katzen’s Abramson Family Recital Hall was home to an international production based on Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor” on Sept. 26. To put on the show, AU worked with Project ARTS American Russian Theatre Symposia), run by a Congressional organization that seeks to encourage better cultural exchange between the United States and Russia.
The collaboration featured five young Russian directors and choreographers: Polina Nevedomskaya, Ilya Varankin, Sergei Karpov, Maxim Novikov and Georgy Tsnobiladze.
Simon’s 1979 play inspired by Anton Chekhov was re-envisioned in near-silence with the help of D.C.’s own Synetic Theater. The production spotlighted Synetic’s award-winning style of physical comedy and drama that combines dance, acrobatics, music and theater. A second performance of “The Good Doctor” also took place at Synetic in Arlington, Va. on Sept. 30.
The directors took wildly different approaches to adapting Simon’s famous play into six separate vignettes, each using elements of physical theater. Theater professor and AU project coordinator Gail Humphries-Mardirosian said in the welcome speech that these vignettes “are very process-oriented” and more of what they call an “informance” because of this “project’s experimentation with other cultures.”
Accompanied by five professional members of Synetic’s company in the performance, the AU students fully immersed themselves in the real-life theater process by undergoing two weeks of boot camp rehearsal, learning Synetic’s rigorous physical skills.
In the end, these cadets succeeded. Each performer was excellent; it was impossible to tell which actors were merely students and which were the professionals. Each scene was immersed in emotion, from the romantic and heartbreaking scene of two once unhappy people meeting for the first time on a rainy day, to the mesmerizing performance of defenseless creatures becoming man-eaters, to the tale of the most epic toothache ever seen. AU and Synetic’s “The Good Doctor” was an anthology of love, aggression, seduction, sexuality and the conflicting emotions of the occasional rainy day.
Some of the vignettes were shorter performances composed of a single scene, like the passionate duet “Too Late For Happiness” directed by Nevedomskaya, about a man and a woman’s passion overcoming anger, or the tense and aggressive story of a ballerina and her instructor, “The Governess,” directed by Varankin.
The directors, which also included Synetic’s Ben Cunis and Irina Tsikurishvili, used Synetic’s physical theater masterfully, manipulating the props, set, lighting and sound effects to create iconic symbolism throughout the entire show.
The imagery and metaphors of physical comedy brought the stories to a place unreachable by simple dialogue. Besides the screaming, music, minor banter and stomping, there was a beauty in reaching a different culture through translatable silence.
Eagle Staff Writer Zach C. Cohen contributed to this report.