Forget the Disney version, Synetic Theater stages far different ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Zana Gankhuyag and Irinka Kavsadze play “Beauty and the Beast” at Synetic Theater. (Courtesy Synetic Theater)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Beauty and the Beast' at Synetic Theater (Part 1)

If you’ve never seen Jean Cocteau’s French fantasy film “La Belle et la Bête” (1946), it’s fascinating to track the differences from the 1991 Disney animated version, from diamond teardrops to magical gloves, to a different ending for the villain (named Avenant, not Gaston).

That’s the uniquely magical spirit of the original 1740 fairy tale and Synetic Theater’s new staging of “Beauty and the Beast” in Crystal City, Virginia, from March 3 through April 2.

“Our production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is not the Disney version, it’s based more on the French novel ‘La Belle et la Bête,'” Lead Actress Irinka Kavsadze told WTOP. “It is darker, it is more mysterious and it is more gothic … yes there is love in this story obviously, but to me it is all about self-discovery and finding your strength.”

Kavsadze plays Belle, a poor, provincial French girl who selflessly trades places with her father (Irakli Kavsadze) to become a prisoner in the castle of the Beast (Zana Gankhuyag), who is actually a prince transformed into a monster. Can the Beast win Belle’s love to reverse this curse? Or will the narcissistic suitor Avenant (Jacob Thompson) spoil their romance?

“Yes, there are (Disney) similarities that Belle goes in place of her father, goes to stay with the Beast and they do find love, but it is a darker version, there is a twist in our version as well, and there are some surprises that I don’t want to give away beforehand,” Kavsadze said.

Not only does Gankhuyag play the Beast, he also doubles as the show’s scenic designer. How cool is that? Imagine performing on stage in front of the very visuals that you created!

“Zana actually created the shadow puppetry,” Kavsadze said. “These shadows are bringing previous history forth or a journey that a character goes through … there are forests, castles, creatures, roses, flowers and gardens. It’s really everything, the symbolic rose, the transformation of the Beast. … It’s a whole production of its own behind that screen!”

In addition to the shadows, there are tactile elements like the intricate costumes.

“The horns, the makeup, there’s a lot of fur, kind of like hooves as well to have this animalistic style that really does enhance the movement,” Kavsadze said. “It’s kind of like an animal-human hybrid the way that they move, especially with Zana’s plasticity in his movement, it’s so beautiful. The costume, the straps and the fur, it’s quite terrifying but also really beautiful.”

Born in the Republic of Georgia — the same home of Synetic Theater founders Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili — Kavsadze moved to the Washington D.C. area when her father got a job at Synetic, where he remains the sound designer for various productions.

“The thing that really connected me to Belle is her relationship to her father and her family, that’s something that’s very important to me personally,” Kavsadze said. “For me, it is that constant self-discovery and finding that inner strength and doing it all for your family.”

Now, the team at Synetic Theater is her family — and has been for nearly two decades.

“It is such a magical production, honestly, from beginning to end,” Kavsadze said. “I encourage all of you to come see it and join us for a truly unforgettable evening.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Beauty and the Beast' at Synetic Theater (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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