Good ultimately triumphs over evil in Synetic Theater’s Jekyll and Hyde, as it must, but not before evil has a long, showy spell in the spotlight. The seven deadlies have always been seductive territory for the creative types at Washington’s standout movement-theater company, of course, but rarely have they reveled so lustily in the carnage and the carnal; so blunt and so brutal is this rendering of the iconic tale of wickedness at war with high ideals that it was genuinely shocking to see a parent leaving midway through with a preadolescent—who had already been exposed at that point to a pole dance, a mugging, and a fairly graphic scene of rape.
Synetic’s adaptation, wordless like most of their reworkings of literary and dramatic classics, relocates Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th-century allegory to a steampunked present day, with Alex Mills’ Dr. Henry Jekyll working feverishly away in a lab whose dominant feature is a video wall controlled by both a massive touch screen and a vintage-typewriter input. Victorian collars pair with hiking boots and green-lensed welder’s goggles; pillars filled with bubbling water frame dim-lit cells in which leather-harnessed, wild-haired creatures writhe in response to both Jekyll’s experiments and Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s insinuating original score. (Daniel Pinha designed the two-level set, Chelsey Schuller the costumes, alternately buttoned-up and scandalously un-.)
The sense of ensemble is strong, as it always is in a Synetic production, but the show rightly belongs to Mills, the charismatic contortionist who introduced himself to Synetic audiences with a bogglingly boneless turn as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2009. He creates two entirely silent but thoroughly communicative physical languages for the tempted but tight-assed Jekyll and the lascivious, libertine Hyde; the director-choreographer team of Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili have even conjured sequences where the two men appear for a few moments in the same physical space, grappling furiously with each other and with their warring desires.
You’ll want to consult the program notes; narrative clarity takes a bit of a backseat to style and staging necessities. (What exactly are those cyborg lab creatures doing? Providing a distraction while Mills sheds Dr. Jekyll’s respectable topcoat and pours himself into Mr. Hyde’s zippered pleather club gear, among other things.) But as dark spectacle, this is one horror show that truly delivers the gruesome goods.