Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Host and Guest
Synetic Theater
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Susan's recent review of No Place to Go

Dan Istrate (center left),
Vato Tsikurishvili (center right) and Cast

Photo by Johnny Shryock
Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, founders of Synetic Theater in Arlington, Virginia, are natives of the Republic of Georgia who emigrated to the United States decades ago. The company has performed its adaptation of Host and Guest, based on a classic work by Georgian poet Vazha Pshavela, in fraught historic times: the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings; the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia; in Georgia itself in 2012; and now, as a way of advocating for Ukraine during its assault by Russian troops.

The play, adapted by Roland L. Reed from the poem, is an examination of the clash between individual acts of hospitality and the power of cultural hatred, but that description ignores the pulsating physicality that dominates the 90-minute work. Unlike many of Synetic's other dramatic pieces, this one has dialogue, but the Tsikurishvilis (Paata as director, Irena as choreographer) convey the story's power through the company's signature feats of extreme movement.

The structure of the story is simple. Two hunters from different clans, Joqola (Dan Istrate) and Zviadauri (Vato Tsikurishvili), meet while hunting deer in a deep forest. Although their clans are historic enemies, it is late and Joqola takes Zviadauri home to eat and stay the night. He quotes a proverb about the sanctity of the host-guest relationship: "The guest will be the last to die."

However, the rest of Joqola's village learn of Zviadauri's presence and set out not only to capture him as an enemy, but also to attack Joqola and his wife Agaza (Irina Tsikurishvili) as traitors for taking him in. The Synetic production captures the full-blooded (if not literally bloody) intensity of first one clan, then the other, in acrobatic scenes of stage combat including flying leaps from high platforms and dreamlike images of dead soldiers awakening to life in a graveyard. Vato Tsikurishvili created the fight choreography.

Even aside from the battle scenes, Host and Guest is a spectacle of fascinating detail. The same performers who play the members of both clans also represent trees in the forest, holding long sticks as branches; the combatants conjure up the images of horses as they propel themselves across the stage; and, in quieter moments, radiant Maryam Najafzada appears as the elusive deer that brings the two men together.

The percussive original score by Vato Kakhidze and Irakli Kavsadze's sound design provide the heartbeat of the production, lit in vivid reds and sepulchral deep greens by lighting designer Brian Allard. Phil Charlwood and Carolan Corcoran have recreated the respective original scenic and costume designs of Gogi Alexi Meskhishvili: villagers dressed in colors representing their tribe seem to move constantly, climbing on battlements and scrambling up slanted ladders.

Host and Guest runs through October 2, 2022, at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington VA. For ticket and information, call 866-811-4111 or visit

Play by Roland L. Reed, based on Vazha Pshavela's narrative poem "Host and Guest"
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili
Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili
Original Music by Vato Kakhidze

Joqola: Dan Istrate
Zviadauri: Vato Tsikurishvili
Agaza: Irina Tsikurishvili
Musa: Irakli Kavsadze
Mula: Philip Fletcher
Zviadauri's Wife: Nutsa Tediashvili
Deer: Maryam Najafzada
Villagers: Irene Hamilton, Justin Cole Lucas, Justin Bell, Natan-Maël Gray, Robert Bowen Smith, Lev Belolipetski, Sebastian Newman
Daughter: Emma Ruckh