Synetic Theater’s anti-war “Host and Guest” continues to be replayed.
For the fledgling theatre, founded a year earlier, “Host and Guest” was an identity success. In 2008, Synetic was preparing an adaptation of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” when news broke that Russia had invaded Tsikurishvili’s native Georgia. Thus, “Cabinet” was put aside and “Host and Guest” reassembled.
Then came last February and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“When Ukraine arrived, I had no less reaction or feeling,” says Tsikurishvili. “It reawakened wounds, and it reawakened feelings that we were trying to forget.”
So, two decades after first producing “Host and Guest” — and 14 years after relaunching it — Synetic has made another trip back to the show that put it on the map. Once again directed by Tsikurishvili and choreographed by his wife and Synetic co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili, writer Roland L. Reed’s play is on stage at the troupe’s Crystal City Theater through October 2.
“Unfortunately, it’s as relevant today as it was 20 years ago, and I’m afraid it will be relevant in 20 years and 50 years and so on, because it goes to the essence of human nature. “, says returning actor Dan Istrate. . “I don’t know what that says about our level of consciousness as a human race, because I feel like we’re stuck in one place.” (Istrate, who plays the lead role of Joqola, previously played the part in the 2008 show, as well as touring productions in 2003 and 2012.)
The plot of “Host and Guest” is simple: a Christian hunter named Zviadauri is lost in the Caucasus mountains when he crosses paths with Joqola, a Muslim member of a warring clan. Joqola lowers his rifle and welcomes Zviadauri into his home, promising safety and hospitality, but his fellow citizens are less hospitable. Old feuds are reignited and bloodshed ensues.
After the original production at DC’s Church Street Theater, Synetic took “Host and Guest” to New York and Philadelphia, then remounted it in 2004 at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater. The Spectrum again hosted the 2008 staging and Synetic took the production to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in 2012.
“[‘Host and Guest’] played a huge role in establishing what Synetic is, where we come from,” says Paata Tsikurishvili. “We were playing a production with 14 actors on the Church Street Theater stage at Dupont Circle, and we had maybe 10 people in attendance because no one knew who we were. But out of 10, five became our donors and supporters and board members. So that’s how it started.
Tsikurishvili is not averse to reinventing covers of other synetic productions. Last fall, the theater merged a remake of its 2007 production “The Fall of the House of Usher” with an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” to create a new show billed as “The Madness of Poe “. Next month, Tsikurishvili plans to present a radically revamped version of Synetic’s 2005 “Dracula”. for a faithful reassembly of “Host and Guest”.
“I try to keep ‘Host and Guest’ pretty much intact because it’s classic,” says Tsikurishvili. “He really doesn’t need anything.”
The “Host and Guest” cast helps maintain this continuity. Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili originally played Joqola and his wife, although only Irina reprized her role. Synetic’s original and unmissable cast member Philip Fletcher also returns. The same goes for Irakli Kavsadze, who first played Zviadauri – the titular guest – but grew old in the role of a villager originally played by his father (famous Georgian actor Kakhi Kavsadze).
There is also a new generation. Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili’s son, Vato – who saw the original production as a child – now plays Zviadauri. Other ensemble members were toddlers or even unborn when “Host and Guest” was first staged.
“When I did [almost] 20 years ago I was one of the youngest in the cast, and now I’m one of the oldest,” says Istrate. “It’s such a change. It’s another dynamic. But I feed off of their energy because I see myself in the way they want to prove themselves, they want to show they can jump the highest or they want to do all these crazy things.
Paata Tsikurishvili is proud to spread this story – considered a touchstone of Georgian culture – and to highlight long-running regional conflicts in the Caucasus that he believes Western audiences have only recently begun to understand. . But as Synetic produces ‘Host and Guest’ in response to an international act of aggression for the third time, Tsikurishvili hopes he has no reason to put on the show again.
“It’s not about war,” Tsikurishvili says of the show. “It’s a question of morality. These are the values for which we all truly stand, including America. They are the same values. It’s freedom. It’s respect for others, respect for different ethnic groups. It is about all of humanity.
Synetic Theatre, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. 703-824-8060, ext. 117. synetictheater.org.