- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

OPENING

• Energumen — Longacre Lea Productions. A shady businessman hires deprogrammers to rescue his daughter from a cult of tone-deaf Santas. Opens tonight in repertory with “The Real Inspector Hound” at the Callan Theatre, Catholic University. 202/460-2188.

• The Real Inspector Hound — Longacre Lea Productions. Tom Stoppard’s wildly popular sendup of a British whodunit. Opens tonight in repertory with “Energumen” at the Callan Theatre, Catholic University. 202/460-2188.

• Urinetown — Signature Theatre. A water shortage has crippled the sewer system of a Gotham-like town, and the government outlaws the use of private toilets, forcing residents to use public, pay-per-use amenities in this dark comedy. Opens Tuesday. 703/218-6500.

NOW PLAYING

• The Clean House — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. The astounding talent Sarah Ruhl and her sad yet strangely uplifting and funny play use housecleaning as a metaphor for how people alienate themselves from their own lives. When a suburban nutcase, who finds spiritual meaning in cleaning, teams up to clean her preening sister’s house with the sister’s Brazilian cleaning lady, who prefers telling jokes to lifting a dust rag, all becomes tidy — until the sister’s surgeon husband leaves her for one of his patients, a magical and glowing woman who litters the house with flowers, fruit and pretty messes. Writing, staging, sets and acting combine with elements of magic realism, melodrama and absurdist comedy and will change forever the way you view dusting and Windex. Through Sunday. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hairspray — Kennedy Center Opera House — ***1/2. The musical based on Baltimore native John Waters’ 1988 film comedy won eight Tonys on Broadway; now Washington finds out why. Can tubby Tracy Turnblad win a TV dance show’s “Miss Hairspray” contest, woo an Elvis wannabe and bring the races together on the dance floor? There’s never any doubt. The music is gleeful, the lyrics are witty, and the songs are bouncing. Comedian John Pinette, in drag, does a bravura turn as mother Edna Turnblad, prancing around as if every pound of his considerable frame were a blessing. The show retains enough of Mr. Waters’ snarky side to please his loyalists and bursts with everything else a musical-theater fan could want. Through Aug. 21. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

• The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow — Studio Theatre Secondstage — ***1/2. Rolin Jones’ clever and harrowing play centers on Jennifer Marcus, a young Californian adopted from China who is at once a computer genius and a mass of phobias that keep her from leaving her house. Longing to find her birth parents, she builds a robot she calls Jenny Chow, a thinking and feeling replica of herself who has no fears and can take the emotional and psychological journey involved in finding her mother. Most of the action unfolds before an invisible computer screen, but nothing sticks out as terribly odd because the comedy’s entire logic is goofy, a jumble of computer code, advanced physics and pop-culture references. At last, theater for the instant-messaging generation. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• James and the Giant Peach — Imagination Stage — **1/2. Roald Dahl’s book about a lonely, mistreated boy who grows a magic peach that takes him from home in England to New York is a storybook favorite, and David Wood’s adaptation is workmanlike. However, even good direction and an adept cast can’t overcome its pallid, forgettable songs, static staging and clunky special effects. Much of the magic has gone missing. Through Sunday. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Lion King — France-Merrick Performing Arts Center — ****. Director Julie Taymor’s brilliant stage adaptation of the Disney animated movie brings the entire African savanna to pulsing, heat-struck life through the use of African masks, headdresses, textiles and puppetry ranging from traditional marionettes and life-size animal figures to bunraku and shadow-puppet forms. The vibrantly beautiful musical is as visually and musically dazzling as it was when it premiered in 1997. Artistry, spectacle, a terrific score and a talented acting ensemble all combine to make it that rarest of beasts, a perfect musical. Through Sept. 4 at 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. 410/547-7328. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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