- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

OPENING

• For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again — Metro Stage. The story of a son’s homage to his mother, who nurtured his imagination and love for the theater. Opens Wednesday. 703/548-9044.

• Friends and Lovers — Warner Theatre. Eric Jerome Dickey’s play explores what happens when friends cross the line and become lovers. Opens Tuesday. 202/397-SEAT.

NOW PLAYING

• After Ashley — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***. Playwright and D.C. native Gina Gionfriddo delves into our fascination with the preyed-upon in this brashly funny, disquieting play. Ashley Hammond, the wife of a Washington newspaper reporter and mother of a resentful 14-year-old, is raped and murdered by a man hired to do yardwork. Her son’s excruciating call to 911 makes him a celebrity, and her husband’s heart-tugging book, “After Ashley,” becomes a best-seller and springboard to a TV show with “tasteful” re-enactments of the crimes, which Ashley’s husband hosts. The play vividly satirizes a society that claims to be horrified by violence, yet fetishizes its images. It’s overwritten and mines the same angry territory over and over again, but the characters are compelling and the agile cast members add nuance to their roles. Through Oct. 16. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Aida — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. The Elton John-Tim Rice version of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera is a pastiche of Broadway belters, easy-listening rock ‘n’ roll and pop balladry. Yet the story of a princess caught between trying to save her people and her love for a conflicted Egyptian soldier packs an emotional wallop. Credit a deeply felt, wrenching performance by Felicia Curry as the Nubian-princess-turned-Egyptian-slave Aida, and equally affecting acting and singing by Russell Sunday as the soldier Radames and Janine Gulisano as Amneris, the third side of the tragic love triangle. Through Nov. 20. 301/596-6161. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Camille — Round House Theatre Bethesda — **1/2. Playwright Neil Bartlett returned to Alexandre Dumas’ original 1848 novel for his base version of “La Dame aux Camelias.” Dumas portrayed a money-mad, licentious world where champagne and drugs were in plentiful supply and women were sexual, mercenary creatures. Mr. Bartlett strips away even more of the tale’s romantic conventions in this adaptation, which puts a price tag on everyone and leaves no trace of romantic flourishes. Women are floozies, men are cads, scandal is all. The delicate beauty of Angela Reed as Marguerite contrasts with the character’s hearty, cursing style, while Aubrey Deeker as Armand seems almost too fragile to live. Their love scenes are animalistic and no-frills. It’s an unfettered, brutal version of “Camille” that strips away everything but meanness and avarice. Through Oct. 16. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Dracula — Synetic Theater — ****. The lobby walls of the Rosslyn Spectrum are dripping blood, strings of scarlet fabric oozing down to the floor. And Synetic Theater’s fever-dream vision of the Dracula legend delivers — and then some — in an erotic and highly charged production directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, with sensuous choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili. This is a perfect project for Synetic, bringing together the intrinsic theatricality of the vampire myth with the troupe’s original blend of movement, dance, spoken word, music and dazzling visuals. Not since the heyday of Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat novels have we seen such a sexy and epic look at the undead. You’ll start wishing they sold garlic necklaces at the concession stand. Through Oct. 30 at the Rosslyn Spectrum. 202/462-5364. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• It Had To Be You — American Century Theater — **1/2. Joe Bologna and Renee Taylor’s pleasing romantic comedy combines the show business comedy with the classic theme that people who at first seem so wrong for each other can turn out to be an inspired match. As the B-movie actress who holds an unctuous TV commercial producer hostage in her pigsty of an apartment after casual sex — torturing him with feverishly acted scenes from her one-woman play about a Russian lady who gets crucified upside down — Karen Jadlos Shotts is a comic masterpiece. Daffy and big-hearted, she explodes like a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag, spilling color, texture and grab-bag style in her wake. Mark Adams as the producer is congenial but bland. Yet the play’s stubborn sense of romance prevails. Through Saturday at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Number — Studio Theatre — ***1/2. British playwright Caryl Churchill has a way of making the familiar frightening. A night-terror quality grips her newest work and lends the cliche “a chip off the old block” a threatening aura as the seedy Englishman Salter (Ted van Griethuysen) breaks it to his anguished son Bernard (Tom Story) that he, Bernard, is a clone, cooked up in a Petri dish after Salter’s “original” son supposedly died. Moreover, there is not one, but at least 20 Bernards running around — and Salter meets many of them. The virtuoso actors, directed with ferocious economy by Joy Zinoman, do a nimble dance — the elder fascinated and repelled by what he has made, the younger longing for identity and yet a breed apart from his creator. It’s a profound and confounding play that makes you question modern technologies and new societies seeking to “improve” on old ways of being. Through Oct. 16. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard

• Othello — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***. In this emotionally charged new production, expertly directed by Michael Kahn, stars Avery Brooks and Patrick Page break new ground with their unconventional interpretations. Mr. Brooks’ brave portrayal of Othello is deep and comprehensive, adding sophistication and touching vulnerability to a seemingly two-dimensional character. Mr. Page as Iago conjures forth the icy instincts of a true psychopath, a loveless, guiltless individual caring little for the death and mayhem left in his wake. The ensemble cast adds notable heft. The result is a superb opening act for the company’s 2005-2006 season. Through Oct. 30. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Passion Play, a Cycle — Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage — ***. Young playwright Sarah Ruhl uses productions of the Passion Play from three different epochs — Elizabethan England, 1934 Germany and the late-20th-century American Midwest — as a frame to explore the inherent theatricality in politics and religion in this world-premiere three-play work. Molly Smith directs with a flair for both religious pomp and carnival-style hurly-burly, providing a potent visual stew of iconic and startlingly original imagery. Set designer Scott Bradley echoes traditional biblical and religious art in the use of the tableaux. The actors dive into the multiple permutations of their roles with relish, and all are superb. Robert Dorfman’s deft impersonations of famous figures — Queen Elizabeth I, Adolf Hitler and Ronald Reagan — are electrifying. The first two parts of the cycle are satisfying, but the third seems unfinished and raw, making the whole little more than a passing parade of human history, one that is all performance, no soul. Through Oct 16. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Urinetown — Signature Theatre — ****. Rife with parody and spoofs of theatrical conventions, “Urinetown” borrows from the social dramas of the 1930s to depict a bedraggled Depression-era city where a long drought has resulted in the monopolization of public amenities by Big Business. Home plumbing has been banned, hence citizens’ bladders are controlled by the villainous Caldwell B. Cladwell (Christopher Bloch) and his UGC Corp. (which stands for “Urine Good Company”). When muscular custodian Bobby Strong (Will Gartshore) decides to give everyone the urination liberation they deserve, townsfolk rally in dance and song. Director Joe Calarco and choreographer Karma Camp cram the musical numbers with wicked homages to “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Evita,” with grisly and gorgeous staging reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” The players are almost absurdly talented, at the top of their game both vocally and as actors. Through Sunday. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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