- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

NOW PLAYING

• Afterplay Studio Theatre — —.*** iel’s slight but winsome work explores what would happen if two characters from Chekhov were to meet in a Moscow cafe in 1921 — 20 years after the end of the action in Chekhov’s plays — and swap life stories. But there is no place for them in post-revolutionary Russia. So a filigreed sadness hangs over this work of sorrow and ruin, giving it a decorous poignancy. But the conversation that flows between the two characters is as melodic as a duet between violin and balalaika. Through April 17. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• 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: that 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.

• The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater —****. When a renowned architect falls in love with a goat named Sylvia, his wife and her homosexual teenage son react volcanically. Edward Albee’s latest play, a shocking comedy about the unreasonable nature of love, is treated with bristling intelligence by director Wendy C. Goldberg and a simpatico quartet of actors. It’s pointedly, mercilessly funny, with writing of a cutthroat delicacy, a sophisticated veneer that belies the play’s base subject matter. Through April 17. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• I Am My Own Wife — The National Theatre — ****. A 65-year-old East German transvestite with a Miss Manners demeanor may not be an obvious choice for an evening’s entertainment. Yet there is no more exquisite company than Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, the cross-dressing antiques collector at the heart of Doug Wright’s composed, piquant, one-man show starring Tony Award-winning actor Jefferson Mays as Charlotte and 35 other characters (including the playwright). Though some of Charlotte’s tales of sexual high jinks would make Alfred Kinsey blush, Mr. Mays brings Charlotte’s shifting perspectives — about enduring first Nazi then communist rule while living as a transvestite and homosexual — to life in a shape-shifting, unforced performance that is nothing short of alchemy. Through Sunday. 800/447-7400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Omnium Gatherum — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — ****. 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 Brit, 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, 2001. The acting is uniformly fine and Halo Wines directs with master-chef skill. Through May 8. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Tempest — The Shakespeare Theatre — ****. 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 Whoriskey 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 — Signature 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 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 April 24. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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