- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

OPENING

• A Common Bond — Source Theatre. A battle-scarred post-September 11 world where terrorists make love and war. Sunday through Tuesday. Part of the Washington Theatre Festival. 202/462-1073.

• Painted Alice — Theater Alliance. Using Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” as a guide, “Painted Alice” follows a painter’s struggle to find inspiration for a commissioned work. Opens tonight at the H Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497.

• The Power of the Dog — Callan Theatre, Catholic University. Stalin is seeking immortality through portraiture, a woman is fleeing execution, and a soldier has theories of holistic filmmaking, all in October 1944. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

• The Rocky Horror Show — Landless Theatre Company. The cult rock classic musical that encourages audience participation. Opens tomorrow at the District of Columbia Arts Center. 202/462-7833.

• Translations of Xhosa — Boston University School of Theatre Arts. A young American confronts her womanhood on a journey through the cultural and political landscape of South Africa. Opens Tuesday at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400.

NOW PLAYING

• Crave — Potomac Theatre Project — ***. British playwright Sarah Kane committed suicide in 1999 at 28, and this play is so drunk with death — death as the ultimate desire, and a craving for it that is nearly sexual — that you wonder if it is a play or a multivoiced suicide note. It’s an exploration of four fragmented, overlapping voices in the playwright’s head, all brought to distinct life by the cast. Minimal and elliptical, “Crave” moves like a fugue or a looped rant about the horror of being alive. It will seem all too familiar to anyone who has ever suffered from chronic depression. Through Sunday in repertory with “Piaf” and “No Man’s Land” at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Dear World — American Century Theater — ***. Composer Jerry Herman’s delicately fantastic adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s satiric farce, “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” premiered in 1969. Conceived as an intimate chamber musical, it became an overproduced train wreck that was stomped by the critics and slipped into obscurity. Now, American Century is using the original book, which emphasizes the simple magic of Mr. Giraudoux’s tale. Mr. Herman’s score is lilting and romantic. As the Countess Aurelia, the town’s beloved eccentric who saves Paris from ruthless industrialists, veteran performer Ilona Dulaski is naturally elegant and not so much crazy as someone who chooses her own reality. Unfortunately, the cast ranges from excellent to embarrassingly amateurish, and these extremes throw off the show’s gentle rhythm. Still, this is a neglected treasure of a musical. Through Saturday at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business — Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts Imagination Stage — ***1/2. Joan Cushing, known to Washington audiences as Mrs. Foggybottom, wrote the music, lyrics and book for this delightful, Crayola-bright musical for children and any adult who remembers what it was like to be a loud, proud kindergartener. It’s the story of Junie B. (Sherri Edelen), a defiant 6-year-old who faces a daunting challenge, the impending arrival of a new baby brother or sister. Miss Edelen’s Broadway-caliber voice is put to good use in the show’s brisk score. She makes a complete and winning transformation into the bossy Junie B. She and the talented cast make this a bouncy and energetic celebration of what it’s like to be a child. Through Aug. 17. 301/280-1651. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Lady Chatterley’s Lover — Washington Shakespeare Company — ***1/2. Once banned for its frank depiction of sexuality and sensuality, D.H. Lawrence’s novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is, at heart, about class constrictions and the often suffocating bonds of motherly and spousal love. This splendid production brings out all these aspects and, under the direction of John Vreeke, imbues them with an intriguing mix of ruefulness, repression and unbridled sensuality — and appeals to the libido as much as it does the intellect. The love scenes between Constance Chatterley (Michelle Shupe) and the gamekeeper Oliver Mellors (Hugh T. Owen) pulsate with lushness and heat and awakening senses. It is not often you see a novel brought to the stage with such fine focus and devotion to the author’s intention. Through Sunday at the Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Monster — Olney Theatre — ***. For a Gothic good time, you can’t do better than Neal Bell’s harrowing, freakish “Monster,” a free-form adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein.” Directed with audacity by Jim Petosa, it’s a play of extremes and deep-purple emotions, both disturbingly erotic and almost absurdly romantic. At the same time, its tone is so swampy and delirious it would put a Tales of the Crypt comic book to shame. The cast is top-notch, and Christopher Lane is extraordinary as the innocent, bewildered Creature. Through Sunday 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• No Man’s Land — Potomac Theatre Project — ***. The theme of this year’s Potomac Theatre Project (the strongest and most vital edition of the annual theater festival yet) is the interrelationship of creativity, madness and self-destruction, a theme plumbed to the remote inner hollows of the soul in Harold Pinter’s bleak, funny play, whose silken creepiness comes from its depiction of madness and creativity in life’s twilight years. It becomes a dolorous duet between its two main characters, Spooner (Alan Wade) and Hirst (Richard Pilcher), who just might be one man — Hirst, examining his life choices amid a rising current of uncertainty. Both attack Mr. Pinter’s obtuse dialogue with precision and appetite. They take the play beyond a story about artists and writers and the compromises they make. It becomes about being human, having that null space deep inside you that yearns to be filled. Through Sunday in repertory with “Piaf” and “Crave” at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Piaf — Potomac Theatre Project — ***1/2. Edith Piaf, the transcendent French singer from the 1930s to the 1960s, gave herself body and soul to her audiences and in private life gorged on men, liquor, drugs and money in a way that belied her frail image. Born in a gutter and raised in a brothel, she stayed loyal to those roots throughout a drama-crammed life, and that gives Pam Gems’ lusty play its earthy, good-natured energy. Helen Hedman, as Piaf, bears an eerie vocal and physical resemblance to the singer. Her Piaf is a force of nature that is all rawness and need. There is boozing, drug-taking, prostitution and murder aplenty in “Piaf,” but Miss Gems’ play has an obstinately cheerful air, a lively recklessness and light that captures Miss Piaf’s spirit. Through Sunday in repertory with “Crave” and “No Man’s Land” at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Polaroid Stories — Studio Theatre Secondstage — **. Inspired in part by Jim Goldberg’s 1987 photo essay “Raised by Wolves,” about the lives of homeless teenagers on the streets of San Francisco and Seattle, playwright Naomi Iizuka wrote “Polaroid Stories” in the late 1990s. It already seems dated — a sepia-toned photo journal of the mean streets fraught with cheap sex, drugs, abuse and violence. But it doesn’t offer fresh insights or even a penetrating look into the realities of teen homelessness. There isn’t even any shock value to stimulate us. Director Keith Alan Baker piles on the music, sound and lighting effects, and movement in the hope something sticks. But the stories seem like random snapshots — blurry, badly cropped, hastily shot. What stays with you is the promise and the energy of the young, largely unknown cast. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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