- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

NOW PLAYING

• Carousel — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **. This “chamber musical” approach to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical pares down the cast and orchestra and keeps the staging simple. This cuts costs but also exposes the musical’s sometimes jarring juxtapositions. Songs about geraniums in the “winder box” coexist uneasily with a rougher subtext involving wife beating, suicide, unhappy children and crimes of desperation. The psychological permutations require a deft hand so that the audience is rooting for the tormented hero, but director Brad Watkins displays little dexterity with the material. Through Dec. 26. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Grace — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***. Born-again Christianity gets a drubbing in Craig Wright’s intense and funny play about the peril of prayer. The play loops backward from a violent domestic crime; its focus is a young born-again couple — he a would-be wheeler-dealer who mixes business with saving souls and she a humble soul — alone in their Florida condo, isolated and terrified. The play unfortunately takes a predictably dark turn when the husband goes postal on his wife and everyone else in his path, and its banal, Quentin Tarantino-esque resolution is unworthy of the play’s earlier philosophical and meditative feel. Through Sunday at the Warehouse Theater. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Importance of Being Earnest — Fichandler Theater at Arena Stage — **. Oscar Wilde’s breathtakingly witty 1895 comedy is an airtight confection: One false move, one jarring note, and all the lightness and seemingly effortless artifice are compromised. That’s what happens here as director Everett Quinton gooses up this drawing-room comedy with low-comedy conventions; in short, it’s a burlesque approach to Oscar Wilde. Through Dec. 26. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Movin’ Out — The National Theatre***1/2The Tony-winning Twyla Tharp-Billy Joel musical is a multifaceted feat. Part Broadway show with brilliant dancing and razzle-dazzle staging, part insightful look at the human cost of war, it reflects the paradoxical talents of its two creators. Through Sunday. 800/447-7400. Reviewed by Jean Battey Lewis.

• Pericles — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***1/2. In structure and style, this late play of Shakespeare’s (and there are some doubts he wrote it all) is more like an epic poem teeming with characters and incident, with an episodic plot that almost defies unity. Through Jan. 2. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka — Kennedy Center Theater Lab — **1/2. The bells and whistles are of the dime-store variety in the Kennedy Center’s low-tech take on Roald Dahl’s classic book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the 1971 cult film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The no-frills approach works much of the time, but this could be attributed to the gifted cast of seven, who play various characters as well as operate puppets. Through Dec. 26. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Two Gentlemen of Verona — Folger Theatre — ***. Director Aaron Posner cannily skirts the main flaws of this early Shakespeare play about young love by highlighting the lesser roles of the servants over the frankly silly romantic leads. Shifting the focus gives “Gentlemen” an unexpected lift. Through Sunday. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Thoroughly Modern Millie — Kennedy Center Opera House — **. Based on the 1967 Julie Andrews movie that was a rather strained attempt to capture the madcap verve of the Jazz Age, this production of the Tony-winning show dazzles with spiffy choreography, energetic performances and fabulous art deco costumes. Yet beneath the sequins and fancy footwork, the musical seems flimsy and vacuous. Through Dec. 26. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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