- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

OPENING

• Herakles Natural Theatricals—. Archibald MacLeish’s provocative work exposes the promise and threat of modern applied science with the murderous rampage of Herakles (Hercules) after the conclusion of his 12 famous labors. Opens tomorrow8/5the George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria. 703/739-9338.

• The Miracle Worker — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. The story of a young Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan, who helped Helen battle her blindness. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

NOW PLAYING

• The American Dream — Potomac Theatre Project — **. Edward Albee’s turbulent relationship with his adoptive mother provided fertile ground for the monstrous maternal figures of his plays. This 1960 one-act may be his frankest and most brutal treatment of adoption. Here mommy, a nightmare in a shirtwaist dress, and daddy, an ineffectual lump, are revealed to have a secret about a child they adopted long ago, a boy they found “defective” and treated accordingly. Yet much in this self-consciously absurd play goes unrevealed. It’s a grab bag of elements that are supposed to be farcical and disturbing but are off-putting instead — and it leaves the audience confused and estranged. Paired with Harold Pinter’s “Press Conference” and “One for the Road” in repertory through Sunday at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Clean House — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. The astounding talent Sarah Ruhl and her sad yet strangely uplifting and funny play uses 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 Aug. 14. 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 wish for. 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 IM 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. But 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 Aug. 14. 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.

• Lovesong of the Electric Bear — Potomac Theatre Project — **1/2. Snoo Wilson’s engrossing and obsessive story of Alan Turing, the British math genius who revolutionized the modern computer, is told from the perspective of his teddy bear, a stoutly exuberant and often ribald survivor who takes his “master” on a tour of his life. The play details the twists and turns of Mr. Turing’s sex life, his work in breaking the codes for German U-boats, his visionary ideas about electronic technology, and his building of a “brain” that thinks as well as computes. It’s overwritten in parts, and the cast of young actors have varying degrees of success. But there is much to savor, and the impact of Mr. Turing’s accomplishments is immediately, powerfully felt. In repertory through Sunday at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Press Conference and One for the Road — Potomac Theatre Project — **. Two Harold Pinter short pieces. The first, more a brief sketch than a one-act, depicts a minister of culture in a police state who genially entertains questions from the press, speaking blithely about raping women and killing children. The piece fades into “One for the Road,” in which a smiling Nicolas hoists a few cocktails as he interrogates and tortures a man, his wife and their 9-year-old daughter while soft instrumental music plays in the background. Mr. Pinter wrote “One for the Road” in 1984, but it is as timely and risky as ever, with a tremendous capacity to shock. Paired with Edward Albee’s “The American Dream” in repertory through Sunday at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Somewhere in the Pacific — Potomac Theatre Project — *. Neal Bell’s lugubrious and formulaic play is an intense exploration of homophobia and situational bisexuality during World War II. Aboard a Navy transport ship off Okinawa, a unit of lonely, hormone-crazed Marines await their next orders and grapple with whether to break sexual taboos. The writing is so screamingly hackneyed, cloying and cliched that torpor quickly settles over the proceedings. The play also ratchets up the “yeech” factor as the boundaries of taste are stretched in a pathetic effort to provoke the audience. The material defeats director Jim Petosa and the actors, who fluctuate between overacting and woodenness. The play is agitprop at its most demeaning. In repertory through Sunday at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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