Amid holiday excess, many of us could do with an anti-greed message. Synetic Theater delivers a delightful one in “The Golden Fish,” a gift-wrap-bright adaptation of a fairy tale, running in family-friendly repertory with an encore of Synetic’s 2022 “Snow Maiden.”
A remake of the Synetic show that, in 2010, won the first Helen Hayes Award for outstanding production for young audiences, “The Golden Fish” tells of a poor Old Man (Irakli Kavsadze) who catches the eponymous magical critter (Maryam Najafzada). Instead of, say, cooking his catch in a nice lemon butter sauce, the fisherman releases her back into the sea, prompting her to grant him a wish. Then the fisherman’s intemperate Wife (Kaitlyn Shifflett) gets involved.
Directed and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili, “The Golden Fish” is a show with dialogue, rather than one of Synetic’s wordless classics. But the speech is aptly minimal, foregrounding the ingenious physicality for which the company is known. Najafzada’s Golden Fish twirls like a piscine ballerina. Kavsadze’s Old Man dodders drolly, and when he pulls in a mud-clogged net (invisible to us), his body strains so expressively that we can almost see the disappointing haul.
The physical exuberance includes a scene in which two obsequious servants (Josh Lucas and Alex Mills) give the Wife a manicure and spa session — each touch of a makeup brush or emery board as ebullient as a dance step.
Evgenia L. Salazar’s costumes, flavored with fantasy and Eastern European tradition, help convey the Wife’s insatiable social ambition, as do the changing buildings on Phil Charlwood’s streamlined set. As the demands on the Golden Fish escalate, an ominous note creeps into the musical underscoring, which otherwise often evokes comic operetta. (Koki Lortkipanidze is resident composer.)
In the winning first moments of the show, Mills gambols on as the Narrator, wielding a paint palette and, instead of a brush, a tuft of rainbow-colored gauze. Later, the Narrator will speak, but at this point he just seems to paint a fairy-tale world into existence, for instance daubing at the Old Man until the fisherman looks sufficiently distinctive. The sequence might almost represent Synetic itself, conjuring a new artwork, move by inventive move.
The Golden Fish, directed and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili; resident dramaturge/adapter, Nathan Weinberger; technical director, Phil Charlwood; lighting design, Dominic DeSalvio and Hailey LaRoe; sound, Brandon Cook. About 45 minutes. Through Jan. 7 at 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington. 703-824-8060, Ext. 117. synetictheater.org.