- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

OPENING

• Electra MetroStage—. Sophocles’ tale of family betrayal, coldblooded murder, civil war, political intrigue and the obsessive desire for revenge. Opens tonight. 800/494-8497.

• Humble Boy Washingtn Stage Guild—. This recent London hit offers a stinging look at an anything-but-typical family group in Moreton-on-the-Mold. Opens tonight at Arena Stage at 14th and T.cq name of venueNOW PLAYING

• Beauty and the Beast — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. Disney’s Broadway musical is notorious for spectacle, but this small dinner theater captures its show-bizzy enchantment with ingenuity, economy, style and Broadway-caliber voices. This is decidedly kiddie fare, but adults, too, will respond favorably to the sophistication of the show’s lyrics and its message: Even the most beastly and odd among us can find love and acceptance. Through July 3. 301/596-6161. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — Deaf West Theatre and Ford’s Theatre — ***. This jubilant production of the musical adapted from Mark Twain’s novel boasts fluid (albeit lower-tech) staging and a catchy country-western score, both elevated by a combination of hearing, deaf and hard-of-hearing actors, who create a compelling “third language” composed of speech and American Sign Language. The show handles the story’s heavy issues with a sense of expansiveness and acceptance, and the interaction between the hearing and deaf actors is seamless. Through May 1. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Life x 3 — Round House Theatre Bethesda— *** In French playwright Yasmina Reza’s suave comedy, a disastrous dinner party gets reproduced in triplicate. As in the m• ovie “Groundhog Day,” the scenarios change each time, while the characters and the dialogue remain essentially the same. It is fascinating to watch the characters react to the subtle changes, their behavior not always making things better or right, merely different. The play dabbles in deep cosmic matters but is kept dancing by Miss Reza’s smart dialogue (translated by Christopher Hampton) and the self-assurance of Lou Jacobi’s direction. Through May 1. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

Omnium Gatherum —— Olney Theatre Center for the Arts ****ars— The title means “a peculiar collection of souls,” and this 90-minute feast of wit and haute cuisine gives us a Manhattan hostess and the kaleidoscope of guests she has assembled for her sumptuous and surreal dinner party, which takes place in post-September 11 New York. Imagine at one table a best-selling novelist, a hard-drinking Briton, a Middle Eastern scholar, a black writer on morality and spirituality, a vegan feminist peacenik, a New York firefighter, and just in time for dessert • a curse-hurling Arab terrorist. They argue, they console, they pontificate anything to keep away the pervasive darkness and panic they have felt since September 11. The acting is uniformly fine, and Halo Wines directs with master-chef skill. Through May 8. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

—The Piano Lesson —*** Arena Stage, Fichandler Theatertars • August Wilson’s play about a Pittsburgh family’s battle over an heirloom piano carved with the faces of ancestors whether to keep it as a reminder of the old ones’ struggles with slavery or sell it and so cast off the white man is saturated with the playwright’s bluesy poetry and vivid characters. Director Seret Scott brings out the fullness of the play’s humor and the emotional friction between the two central characters, a brother and sister. Harriett D. Foy is a powerhouse as the strong-willed sister, and the music of Mr. Wilson’s play comes through loud and clear. Through May 15. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

—The Tempest —****eare Theatre.Four Stars. This snazzy new production of Shakespeare’s play spices the Bard’s sometimes confusing drama with a bracing blend of exoticism and world politics. By re-imagining a Shakespearean spirit world populated by a pan-African Ariel and a comically Saddam-like Caliban, director Kate Whoriskeycq draws fresh attention to Shakespeare’s dominant themes of sin, forgiveness and transformative redemption. The sheer theatricality of the production’s colorful pinwheels, primitive monsters and aerial derring-do helps transform this “Tempest” into a thoughtfully entertaining evening of theater. Through May 22. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.—

• —** Ten Unknowns tre Theatre .In Jon Robin Baitz’s talky play, a prissy New York art dealer can’t manage to wrench an aging, alcoholic painter out of his squalid Mexican exile to show his dazzling recent work at an uptown art gallery. An apparent reason: The works were done, in fact, by his young pothead of an assistant, whom the painter regards as simply an instrument of his own creative fire. Adding to the mix is a young woman, an ecologist studying Mexico’s vanishing frog population who becomes a late-breaking muse. The play is thickly layered with ideas and blowzy discussions about life, creative spark and art, highbrow discourse that comes across as contrived. Direction and setting are over the top, and except for Nigel Reed’s arch desperation as the art dealer, the performances are either flat or rococo. Through SundayApril 24. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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