- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

OPENING

• Hidden: A Gender — Trumpet Vine Theatre Company. A comedic look at gender formation, attitudes and roles that introduces two historical figures who didn’t fit into gender’s strict parameters. 8 p.m. Opens tonight at 3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington. 703/912-1649.

• The Piano Lesson — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater. The August Wilson classic: In the parlor of a row house in Pittsburgh, a piano keeps a silent vigil and becomes a member of the family. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

NOW PLAYING

• Afterplay — Studio Theatre — * Brian Friel’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.

• Columbinus — U.S. Theatre Project — * The shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., took place nearly six years ago but remain a painful memory. This unpitying and heartfelt work by the U.S. Theatre Project probes what pushed two boys to unleash their version of Judgment Day on their peers and teachers. The production is a tangled and often overwrought affair that suffers from structural problems and an overall lack of focus. Only in its second half does it escape cliche, as the action shifts, with shocking immediacy and tautness, to the real-life Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, taking much of the narrative and dialogue from interviews, videotapes and transcripts. Through tomorrow at the Round House Theatre Silver Spring. 240/644-1100. 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.

• Mister Roberts — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — **1/2. Joshua Logan and Thomas Heggen’s classic, the 1948 Tony Award-winning comedy, is about a bunch of lunkheads on a U.S. Navy supply ship doing their best to survive boredom in the Pacific theater near the close of World War II. It’s a pleasant, nostalgic evening of theater, but it’s not great drama, and with two-dimensional characters, it catches fire only infrequently. Through Sunday. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Petite Rouge: A Cajun Red Riding Hood — Imagination Stage — 1/2* Washingtonian Joan Cushing wrote the book, music and lyrics for this Tabasco-spiked musical adaptation of Mike Artell’s storybook “Petit Rouge,” and this latest work finds her spirits high and her talent for infectious rhymes as sharp as ever. The production transforms the dark forest into a swamp on the bayou. It’s as snappy as a string of cayenne peppers. The vibrant score is a mix of Cajun, zydeco, Dixieland, gospel, jazz and blues, and the choreography features high-kicking routines. It’s a feast for the senses. Through Sunday. 301/280-1660. 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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