- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

OPENING

• Closer than Ever — MetroStage. A celebration of music and its amazing ability to reflect the vagaries of life and relationships. Opens Wednesday. 703/548-9044. • Donna Q — Signature Theatre. A modern one-woman show interpretation of Don Quixote. Opens Tuesday. 703/218-6500.

• Patience — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. An aggressive cell-phone executive undergoes a series of traumatic events that make him long for a fresh start in life. 8 p.m. Opens Monday at the Kennedy Center’s AFI Theater. 202/467-4600.

• Talley’s Folly — Theater J. A revealing tale of the relationship between a gentle Jewish accountant and a tough Southern belle. Opens Tuesday at the DC Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. NOW PLAYING

• A Class Act — The Studio Theatre — **1/2. A tribute to the late Edward Kleban, the ultra-phobic Broadway composer and lyricist best known for his collaboration with Marvin Hamlisch on “A Chorus Line,” this musical revue is an upbeat coda to an often downbeat life and career. Mr. Kleban died of cancer at 48, leaving behind a trunk full of sparkling songs that were seldom — if ever — heard. Many of these songs form the basis of this show, which is structured as a memorial service to Mr. Kleban organized by his friends at New York City’s Shubert Theatre. Studio’s Serge Seiden directs with aggressive cheerfulness. There is an almost desperate — and self-defeating — insistence on Mr. Kleban’s status as a neglected genius. Relax, everybody, and just sing the songs. Through June 22. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Pippin — Round House Theatre — **. Under the direction of Thomas W. Jones II, “Pippin,” the 1970s musical about Charlemagne’s son — who seeks out an extraordinary life and winds up finding inner peace — receives a clamorous updating that includes elements of rap, hip-hop, funk, gospel and smooth, jazzy R&B.; The urban rhythms may be more palatable to a modern audience and the “Rent” crowd, but the score’s melodies are lost in a storm of noodling keyboards and guitars — and forget about learning character and story through song. The show’s sweetly idealistic lyrics — about war’s deadly toll, the fleeting pleasures of free love and the search for meaning — are either barely distinguishable in the sound mix or the singers are stretching notes, Whitney Houston-style. It might wow ‘em on “American Idol,” but it has nothing to do with mastery of a melody. Through June 29. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard. • Private Lives — Olney Theatre — **. Noel Coward’s flippantly insouciant 1930 comedy about the idle rich. Elyot (Paul Morella) and Amanda (Valerie Leonard), once unhappily and vociferously married, encounter each other again at a seaside resort hotel in France, each on a honeymoon trip with a new spouse — and in adjoining rooms, no less. The old flame sparks again, and the two flee their newly wedded partners and shack up. Olney’s production has its sparkling moments: Snazzy, cynical, and attractive, the studiously bored Mr. Morella and the leggy, nervy Miss Leonard snap and crackle with glamour, wit, and a collective fear of ennui. Their personal chemistry lights up the room. The costumes are authentic and alluring. Director Richard Romagnoli’s pacing is crisp and impeccable. The production is a must-see if you’re a die-hard Coward aficionado. But in the end, the effort is flummoxed by characters who are hard to like, and stymied by supporting actors who cannot always transcend this limitation. Mr. Coward tiptoes up to the serious modern issue of how to make a marriage between two power-lunchers, and reveals he doesn’t have the answer. Through June 29. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Shear Madness — Kennedy Center Theater Lab— **. This corny, hokey tourist trap — now in its second decade — is doubly maddening because the Kennedy Center displays it as art to the cultural center’s unsuspecting pilgrims. The audience-participation murder-mystery farce (set in a Georgetown hair salon) is well-played, though, when the actors refrain from mugging and cracking up one another. Continues indefinitely. 202/467-4600. File review by Nelson Pressley.

• Valentine’s Day — The Quotidian Theatre Company — *1/2. This is one of nine plays in Horton Foote’s “Orphans’ Home Cycle,” which depicts the lives of Mr. Foote’s parents from 1902 to 1928. Mr. Foote is an eminent screenwriter (“To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Tender Mercies”) and playwright (“The Trip to Bountiful” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Young Man From Atlanta”). It defies belief that the man who wrote this play is the same one who created the screen character of “Mockingbird’s” Atticus Finch. Although “Valentine’s Day” is concerned with love and devotion, even Cupid would be hard-pressed to find something to like — let alone love — about this overwritten, overdetermined doily designed to evoke sweetly scented, wistful memories of small town life in World War I America. Unfortunately, any nostalgia the play elicits for the days when folks used polite forms of address and neighbors helped each other is quickly nullified by the all-encompassing torpor of the play and production. Through June 29 at the Writer’s Center Auditorium. 301/816-1023. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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