An arresting and breathtaking ‘Host & Guest’ at Synetic Theater

An act of kindness from one stranger to another turns into a night of tragedy and bloodshed as the prejudice, hatred, and strife of warring communities blind their eyes to a shared humanity in Host & Guest at Synetic Theater. A play by Roland L. Reed, based on Vazha Pshavela’s narrative poem “Host and Guest” and directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, this season opener is an arresting reminder of the painful blows we can deal one another and a sobering exploration of the danger leaders who raise armies fevered with righteousness in the destruction of an unknown “other” can pose.

The two men at the eye of the hurricane and, in that quiet, able to see beyond past grievances are Joqola played by Dan Istrate and his guest, Zviadauri played by Vato Tsikurishvili. When fate brings the two together on a stormy mountainside, they hesitantly but hopefully rush to believe in the kindred honor they quickly find reflected in one another; Joqola with his haggard but dignified sense of duty and haunted stance, Zviadauri with his guarded smile and drive to protect himself and others.

Ensemble cast of ‘Host & Guest.’ Featured center: Dan Istrate (left, brown tunic) as Joqola and Vato Tsikurishvili (right, red tunic) as Zviadauri. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Though it is never spoken between the men, their commitment to the promise of each other —  even after the world starts to rage around them because of their forbidden friendship — could be seen with every glance and felt with every blow to the other.

Stoking the fires of hatred and distrust was Musa, an eerie presence on the stage played by Irakli Kavsadze. The disgust fueling Kavsadze’s Musa seeped through his deadly plan from his first look at Zviadauri. Aided by Mula played by Philip Fletcher and the commanding members of the ensemble, the audience is dragged along in a terrible and mesmerizing cycle of distrust and peril.

Villagers — Maryam Najafzada (Deer), Irene Hamilton, Josh Cole Lucas, Justin Bell, Natan-Maël Gray, Robert Bowen Smith, Lev Belolipetski, Sebastian Newman — attacked each scene with breathtaking focus and blood-chilling stares. And in particular, Zviadauri’s Wife played by Nutsa Tediashvili made the hair stand up on my arms when her broken heart turned to vengeance as she sent her kinsmen off to punish those who took her husband.

Dan Istrate as Joqola in ‘Host & Guest.’ Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Flung to the other side of grief was Joqola’s wife, Agaza played by Irina Tsikurishvili, who gave an exquisitely empathetic and heart-wrenching performance. As the representation of compassion and humanity in the play, Agaza is torn between her love for her husband, her people, and her sorrow at the lives lost. From every inch of Tsikurishvili’s body, you could feel these corners of herself collide as her heart strained to comfort, soothe, and protect those near her, including her daughter played by Emma Ruckh, in a world falling apart.

Equally as commanding as those on stage was the work of the production’s artistic team. Director Paata Tsikurishvili and Assistant Director Irakli Kavsadze used every inch of the stage to plunge the audience into the depths of distrust and crowd us with the weight of unnecessary loss. Choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili and fight choreography by Vato Tsikurishvili was a hypnotic, entrancing torrent of physicality that found me at times forgetting to breathe.

The jagged scenic design by Phil Charlwood paired with the fractured lighting design by Brian Allard made you fear the shadows lurking in the corners of this world and jump at the slightest sounds in the softest moments. Costume Designer Carolan Corcoran wonderfully navigated the balance between striking and simple for the warring communities as they flew to and from all sides. And, quite literally underscoring it all, the original music by Vato Kakhidze was perfection for bringing chilling gravitas to the sorrow unfolding.

Ensemble cast of ‘Host & Guest.’ Center, standing with sword: Philip Fletcher as Mula. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

This tragic, cautionary play first came to the stage in the wake of 9/11. Now 20 years later — with a Russian invasion raging in Ukraine and the fabric of our own country at risk of fraying — we see the tragedy at the core of Host & Guest threatening once more.  One that pits community against community, belief against belief, and soul against soul when we let fear take control of our actions. A powerful lesson of why every moment is a chance to lay down fear and instead let our common humanity bring us together to light the path to the future with friendship and honor and even someone to weep for us after we are gone.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Host & Guest plays through October 2, 2022, at Synetic Theater in the underground Crystal City Shops, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA. Tickets are $25–$65 and are available online, at the theater box office (open an hour before showtime), or by phone at (703) 824-8060 ext. 117.

All ages are welcome, but discretion is advised due to stylized depictions of war.

COVID Safety: All guests must provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test along with their ID prior to entry. Masks are required at all times. See Synetic Theater’s complete COVID Safety Protocols here.

Host & Guest
A New Play by Roland L. Reed
Based on Vazha Pshavela’s Narrative Poem “Host and Guest”

Joqola played by Dan Istrate
Zviadauri played by Vato Tsikurishvili
Agaza played by Irina Tsikurishvili
Musa played by Irakli Kavsadze
Mula played by Philip Fletcher
Zviadauri’s Wife played by Nutsa Tediashvili
Deer played by Maryam Najafzada
Villager played by Irene Hamilton
Villager played by Josh Cole Lucas
Villager played by Justin Bell
Villager played by Natan-Maël Gray
Villager played by Robert Bowen Smith
Villager played by Lev Belolipetski
Villager played by Sebastian Newman
Daughter played by Emma Ruckh
Understudies Rodin Ruiz, Pablo Guillen, Annette Hasnas, and Kaitlyn Shiffett

Paata Tsikurishvili | Director
Irina Tsikurishvili | Choreographer
Vato Tsikurishvili | Fight Choreographer
Silas Sandifer | Stage Manager
Vato Kakhidze | Original Music
Irakli Kavsadze | Sound Design
Irakli Kavsadze | Assistant Director
Koki Lortkipanidze | Resident Composer
Phil Charlwood | Technical Director
JJ Nichols | Sound Engineer
Carolan Corcoran | Costume Designer (Remount)
Gogi Alexi Meskhishvili | Costume Designer (Original Production)
Brian Allard | Lighting Designer
Ian Claar | Associate Lighting Designer
Alex Keen | Master Electrician
Phil Charlwood | Scenic Designer (Remount)
Aleksandr Shirlaev | Props Master
Hester Kamin | Co-Company Manager