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Dances With the Devil

Dances With the Devil
Synetic's 'Faust' Turns Up the Heat
By Peter Marks, Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; Page C01

It's no picnic being Dr. Faust, but in the naughtily fertile imaginations of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, at least it's an orgy.

In "Faust" -- the husband-and-wife team's new adaptation of the legend of the learned man who sells his soul to Satan -- the temperature rises. And rises. What you get is Goethe by way of the Playboy Channel, a sweaty after-hours version of a morality play, in which a gym-built Faust (Greg Marzullo) partakes steamily of the flesh served to him on a Mephistophelean platter.

Ain't hedonism fun? (While it lasts, anyway.) The 85 quick minutes of Synetic Theater's "Faust" pass in a sexy whirl, with boys and girls cavorting and writhing, writhing and cavorting. If the tale is merely a springboard here for some decorative undulating, what of it? Theater in these parts definitely can use a few more tasteful touches of blue.

This is not to suggest that the production, which runs for three weeks at the Rosslyn Spectrum before moving to the Kennedy Center, verges on anything like "The Devil in Miss Jones." Although in one scene female skin gets ample exposure, the devilish high jinks entail gusto more than porno. Director Paata Tsikurishvili has the notion that the bargain Faust strikes propels him into a punk-bar demimonde, populated by attractive young dancing demons and presided over by a leather-clad Satan, portrayed with dastardly elan by Dan Istrate.

The athleticism on display here is of the delightfully artful sort that Synetic has made its trademark, and in one or two episodes -- such as a coital bathtub duel involving Istrate and the limber Anna Lane -- Irina Tsikurishvili's choreography takes on an especially exhilarating edge. Marzullo gets into the dandy randy act as well, in a scene that extends the bathroom imagery to a romp wrapped in shower curtains.

Whether any of this will expand your appreciation of Goethe's poetry is, of course, highly questionable. The Tsikurishvilis, who have turned tiny Synetic into an inventive powerhouse, thrive on tweaking and twisting literary classics. In this case, their ideas are bound more strongly to the libido than the library. They'd had a go at "Faust" six years ago, before they created Synetic, in a wordier, 2-hour-45-minute version by the Stanislavsky Theater Studio, the ensemble of which they were once a part. Paata Tsikurishvili says this new production for Synetic is completely re-imagined.

Goethe's voluminous two-part epic has been stripped down by the director and one of Synetic's young veterans, Nathan Weinberger. Acting-wise, the Devil gets his due. In a clingy, sleeveless T-shirt, sinister goatee and billowy leather trench coat, Istrate practices his sorcery with a wholly satisfying relish. (The Devil seems to have made his way out of hell through the bathtub drain; in Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili's book-strewn set, Istrate emerges from a tub filled with smoke.)

We meet a 90-pound weakling of a Faust and soon enough, Mephistopheles has done the Charles Atlas thing to him, transforming him into a veritable Hercules and conveying him through a garden of earthly delights. Faust's encounters with the comely, virginal Gretchen (Irina Tsikurishvili) begin in chaste pas de deux and end, as the story goes, quite badly.

That melodramatic story itself unfolds mechanically, with the secondary characters showing their faces only fleetingly. Mostly, the cursory narrative proves an excuse for energetic party scenes involving a lot of sex, blood and rock-and-roll. The resulting effect is actually more Broadway than chiller theater: In the shredded fishnet stockings, torn jeans, studded belts and hot pants that Alexi-Meskhishvili gives them, the sleek young actors look like nothing so much as the chorus of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

If you're up, though, for the allure of pretty bodies in motion, Synetic's got the peephole for you. Marzullo and Irina Tsikurishvili make for supple house dancers, and Istrate reveals himself to be a fine, slithery major domo. At the Club Beelzebub they create, hellish is not a bad way to feel.

Faust , an adaptation of Goethe's play by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger. Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili. Choreography, Irina Tskurishvili. Set and costumes, Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili; lighting, Colin K. Bills; original music, Aaron Forbes; sound, Irakli Kavsadze. With Anna Lane, Matthew McGloin, Philip Fletcher, Andrew Zox, Meghan Grady, Katherine Hill, Olena Kushch, Julia Kunina. About 85 minutes. Through May 21 at Rosslyn Spectrum, 1611 N. Kent St., Arlington; and June 1-18 at the Kennedy Center. Call 703-824-8060 or visit .


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