- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

OPENING

• To Kill a Mockingbird Firebelly Productions.— A young girl’somes to terms with racism and intolerance in this play based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book. Opens tonight4/27heatre on the Run. 703/908-8520.

• Two Rooms — Theater Alliance. A cell in Beirut. A living room in America. Love and life are brought together in a marriage despite a world torn apart by war. Opens tonight at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.

NOW PLAYING

• Bal Masque — Theatre J — ***1/2. Playwright Richard Greenberg’s intriguing and stylish chamber play catches three Manhattan couples as they return from “the party of the century,” Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel. The ball symbolized the breaking down of social mores during the ‘60s, and Mr. Greenberg explores the cultural shift in this world premiere. The actors are superb and superbly matched, and John Vreeke’s direction is impeccable. “Bal Masque” is an aria for the ears and the intellect. Through May 21 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Canterbury Tales — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — ***. The Middle Ages are brought to sacred and scatological life in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s earthy adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s magnum opus, which follows a wildly disparate cross section of medieval religious pilgrims who vie in a storytelling competition on their way to Canterbury. A protean cast of 20 assumes more than 200 characters to dramatize 18 of Chaucer’s tales. The undertaking is so enormous that it requires two parts (three hours each, and each including an equal ration of filth and sanctimony) and three directors. Not many theater companies could pull off such a feat, but the RSC does so stylishly and with bracing candor and impudence. Through May 6. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Frozen — Studio Theatre Secondstage — ****. Three sterling performances by Andrew Long, Nancy Robinette and MaryBeth Wise, an absorbing and emotionally complex play by British playwright Bryony Lavery, and impeccable direction by David Muse: Who could ask for anything more? This is the kind of small, intense, actor-driven show for which Studio Theatre is known. The play charts the interwoven lives of three psychologically paralyzed characters: a convicted child murderer, an American researcher who believes that serial killers are ill and not evil, and the mother of a 10-year-old girl who was one of the victims. The production thrills in the deepest sense with exquisite acting that burns with intelligence and heat. Through May 7. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hip Hop Anansi — Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Center — ***. Adapted by Elsa Davis from the story “Anansi and His Sons,” this hip-hop version features a trickster spider named Anansi, who wants to win the “golden fly pie” more than anything but must rely on the talents of his children to claim the prize. It’s a hip-hop show to which you’d feel comfortable taking the whole family. The b-boys and fly girls in this production are youthful and fresh-faced. No BET-style, hootchy-kootchy moves or even a wisp of gangsta violence. These are the mean streets of “Sesame Street.” April 30, May 6-7 at 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE. 301/280-1661. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — **1/2 — Lainie Robertson’s stage show does not attempt a definitive biography of Billie Holiday but instead tries to capture the calamitous spirit of the Baltimore-born singer as she might have been in 1959, the year of her death at age 44 from years of hard drinking and heroin addiction. The place is a gin-soaked jazz club in Philadelphia, where Lady Day (Lynn Sterling) is down on her luck but still wearing the signature gardenias in her hair and immaculate white evening finery. Miss Sterling neatly captures the flavor of Miss Holiday’s singing style, and the evening is melodic and frequently entertaining. However, there’s a tawdriness about the play’s depiction of the legendary vocalist. They didn’t call Miss Holiday “Lady” for nothing, and making her a tramp does her an injustice. Through June 4. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Persians — Shakespeare Theatre Company — . Ellen McLaughlin’s short, spiky new version of Aeschylus’ powerful and empathetic cautionary play has inspired a visually startling and aurally textured production directed by Ethan McSweeny. The play retells the battle at Salamis, which felled the Persian army at a hideous cost to both sides. The running time may be 80 minutes, but the Shakespeare Theatre packs plenty of spectacle in both the show’s physical aspects and the forthright potency of Aeschylus’ descriptions of the carnage of war. Through May 21. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Radio Golf — CenterStage — …1/2. This final installment in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle depicting black life in the 20th century, finished before his death from liver cancer last October, looks at a social class rarely seen in Mr. Wilson’s plays — wealthy, upper-class blacks in Pittsburgh trying to get richer. In this case, a couple of entrepreneurs want to raze the old neighborhood so they can build an urban development project that means big profits for these social climbers, one of whom gives golf tips over the radio. Mr. Wilson is in fine form, wielding words with virtuoso agility. The pervasive themes of racism and oppression are still powerfully present, but couched in humor. The play is laugh-out-loud funny. Through Sunday at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Retreat From Moscow — Round House Theatre Bethesda — ***. William Nicholson’s keenly felt drama, dexterously acted and directed by James Edmondson, was drawn from the ugly particulars of Mr. Nicholson’s parents’ divorce after a long marriage, and it takes its title from Napoleon’s ruinous Russian campaign. The marriage is a daily siege until Edward (Rick Foucheux) walks out, leaving Alice (Carol Mayo Jenkins) dazed and raging and their son Jamie (Tim Getman) trapped in the middle. However, the play does not have a point beyond a wary examination of a long-standing union. You can only take so many painful scenes before wondering where they lead. The play’s tepid shortcomings, however, do not detract from its magnetic melancholy and the virtuosity of its performances. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Sex Habits of American Women — Signature Theatre — **. There’s nothing too hot about this play, a tepid and bisected look at sexual mores in 1950 and 2004 sparked by playwright Julie Marie Myatt’s wish to poke fun at a 1951 handbook on the female libido and its author. He’s portrayed as a man so distracted by his work he doesn’t notice that his martini-swilling wife has taken a lover and his daughter is having lesbian stirrings. The performances are impeccable, but the play strikes false notes. It’s meant to be about hypocrisy and secrets, but the play is glib and soulless, jumping between the past and the present without providing any resonance. Like an unfulfilling partner, “Sex Habits” leaves you high and dry. Through May 7. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Shenandoah — Ford’s Theatre — **1/2. This revival of the war-weary 1975 musical about the Civil War presents a pacifist stance within a patriotic American context, and the question it asks — about the necessity for all that killing and dying — is as appropriate as ever. The play centers on Charlie Anderson, a Lincolnesque widower from Virginia who is adamant about keeping his sons out of the Civil War — a war that by play’s end he cannot avoid. Director Jeff Calhoun’s production features striking staging and winning performances. At times the show feels flimsy and patched together, with interminable narrative passages and a windy first act. The music is catchy but unsubstantial. Nevertheless, it is stunningly relevant today to a battle-fatigued America. Through May 21. 202/397-SEAT. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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