- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

OPENING

• Ain't Misbehavin' Arena Stage Kreeger Theater. The life and work of Fats Waller. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

• Elizabeth the Queen Folger Theatre. Michael Learned stars in Maxwell Anderson's play about the love relationship and power play between Elizabeth I and Essex. Opens Saturday. 202/544-7077.

• 42nd Street National Theatre. A young girl from Pennsylvania tries to make it on Broadway in 1933. Opens Tuesday. 800/722-4990.

• The Play About the Baby Studio Theatre. An older couple proceeds to teach a younger couple about the necessity of suffering. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

• Richard III The Shakespeare Theatre. Richard battles to keep his ill-gotten kingdom from the Duke of Richmond and the Tudor ascendancy. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.


NOW PLAYING

• Book of Days Arena Stage ***. Lanford Wilson's examination of small-town America is a mystery in a red-checked tablecloth, a homespun whodunit with subtle undertones of a morality tale about integrity and appearances. His evocation of Dublin, Mo., reveals a place where many of the conventions of small-town life can still be enjoyed, but also a place where everyone has a dirty little secret. Think "Our Town" as "Peyton Place." "Book of Days" could crumble into agitprop if it weren't for the innate goodness of characters; what keeps the play anchored is their honesty and heart. Mr. Wilson is a master at crafting their humanity, faults and all. Through March 30. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Dames at Sea Olney Theater Center ***. The 1969 musical "Dames at Sea" is a spoof of all those Busby Berkeley tap-dance extravaganzas of the 1930s, like "42nd Street." In it, a young girl from Utah comes to New York and, in the space of 24 hours, gets a part in a Broadway show, falls in love with a songwriting sailor from her hometown and winds up stealing the spotlight from the witchy leading lady. It is all pure escapism and gee-willikers optimism, and this sparkly revival delivers it with brisk aplomb from a top-notch cast. Any more pertness could give your dimples a cramp, but enjoy the empty calories and move on. Through March 30. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Intimate Apparel The Head Theater ***. Lynn Nottage's delicately wrought, but surprisingly strong, new play centers on a gifted black seamstress (Shane Williams) in 1905 Manhattan whose features are as plain as her needlework with lace, whalebone, satin and silk is exquisite. Externally confident, she is filled with low self-esteem, and at 35 fears going through life without a husband. When a worker on the Panama Canal from Barbados (Kevin Jackson) fuels her romantic dreams with swoony letters from Central America, she pins all her fantasies on him. He turns out to be not only ordinary but clumsy on their wedding night. At its core, this is a play about intimacy. The performances are deeply grounded. Director Kate Whoriskey's production is sensitive, and costume designer Catherine Zuber and set designer Walt Spangler buttress the importance of fabrics, textiles and lingerie to the play's ambience. Through March 30 at CenterStage, Baltimore. 410/332-4240. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Jump/Cut Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company **1/2. Neena Beber's new play, a funny and troubling work directed by Leigh Silverman in a co-production between Woolly Mammoth and Theater J, centers on whether a person has a right to end his life, and whether loved ones should intervene. The playwright plays with the audience a bit, lulling it into thinking it is watching a savvy romantic comedy before delivering the jab to the conscience in the second act. That jab packs an emotional whammy. In seriously addressing the issue of sanctioned suicide, the play dives into provocative areas, but it lacks shape, perspective and conviction. In its desire to merely present all sorts of ideas and emotions, it ultimately fails the audience. Through March 30 at the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater, DC Jewish Community Center. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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