- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

OPENING

• Awake and Sing! — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater. The Clifford Odets tale of a family in Depression-era America that celebrates the belief that a better life is always within reach. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

• Death of a Salesman — Keegan Theatre. Willy Loman sees that his zealous quest for the American Dream actually blinded him to the richness of his life in Arthur Miller’s masterpiece. Opens tonight at the Church Street Theatre. 703/527-6000.

• Don Juan — The Shakespeare Theatre. Moliere’s comedy follows the 17th-century lover Don Juan and his assistant Sganarelle through Louis XIV’s France. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.

• Lift: Icarus and Me — George Mason University Center for the Arts. A musical inspired by the myth of the high-flying Icarus and his inventor-father, Daedalus, set on the dunes of East Texas to the music of ragtime, rodeos, and Texas Swing. Opens tonight. 888/945-2468.

• Measure for Measure — Folger Theatre. Can the personal values of leaders regulate the conduct of citizens? Shakespeare’s play as a modern-day satire on the complexity of legislating morality. Opens tonight. 202/554-7077.

• Trying — Ford’s Theatre. During the final year of his life, a weak and frail Judge Francis Biddle, the former U.S. attorney general, struggles to complete his memoirs and assess his legacy. Opens tomorrow. 202/347-4833.

• Tuesdays with Morrie — Warner Theatre. Mitch Albom’s autobiographical story of a career-obsessed journalist and his former college professor, Morrie Schwartz. Opens Tuesday. 202/783-4000.

NOW PLAYING

• Damn Yankees — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — ***. The bubbly 1955 musical about a middle-aged, rabid Washington Senators fan who sells his soul to the devil to get his team to win the pennant, is an exuberant throwback to a time of innocence. Arena artistic director Molly Smith gives us colorful, no-holds-barred choreography and high-spirited singing for a kicky, kitschy vision of the 1950s. If you’re willing to excuse the era’s dismissive treatment of any woman not a vamp, “Damn Yankees” can be terrific fun. Through Feb. 5. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Fat Pig — Studio Theatre — ****. Neil LaBute’s play confronts our attitudes toward weight and appearance with blistering honesty and wit. It’s almost unheard of for a big woman to be seen in a sexual context, but here smart, appealing, plus-size Helen (Kate Debelack) gets the guy, a buff, successful executive named Tom (Tyler Pierce) — and gets steamy boudoir scenes as well. Mr. LaBute holds up the cliches “love is blind” and “looks aren’t everything” to almost unbearable scrutiny. And under the disgusted, ruthless gazes of Tom’s friends, this love doesn’t stand a chance. The tragedy here is that Tom is simply not “big” enough for Helen, in every sense of the word. Through Feb. 26. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Gas Heart and Hamletmachine — Forum Theatre & Dance Company — ***. How refreshing to see anti-war plays that do not come on like a grenade. These two short, invigoratingly staged one-acts eschew humorless extremism and the tendency to agitprop. Tristan Tzara wrote the deceptively playful “The Gas Heart” in 1920 as a balletic, seemingly nonsensical response to the Great War. Six actors form the different parts of a face and converse in this language poem, composed mainly of non sequiturs and burnished gibberish that eventually takes on a fragmentary beauty. Heiner Muller, with the forceful and affecting “Hamletmachine,” examines the pervasive environment of paranoia and terrorism in post-World War II Europe through the characters in Shakespeare’s tragedy. The new company makes the most of its limited resources and shows that well-trained actors can more than compensate for a modest budget. Through Feb. 5 at the Warehouse Theatre. 202/783-3933. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Mame — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. Has your tinsel lost its twinkle? Free-spirited auntie Mame (Cathy Mundy) and her cohorts in the whoopee-driven life will put you in the proper seasonal mood with this spry production of Jerry Herman’s musical about the jazz baby from the Roaring 20s who is determined to live each moment to the fullest. Mr. Herman’s music and lyrics shine with a sis-boom-bah brand of optimism that wins you over with their unremitting good cheer. The show is old-fashioned in structure, melody and its drive to deliver a feel-good musical. No sense resisting — old-timey can be timeless. Through Feb. 19. 800/88TOBYS. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Once on This Island — Centerstage — ***. Downtown Baltimore gets a welcome blast of tropical heat with this sunstruck musical production, a calypso variation on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” re-imagined by composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Inspired by Rosa Guy’s 1985 novel “My Love, My Love,” the story transplants the Andersen story to an island in the French Antilles, where its rueful romance is complicated by class differences and distinctions of skin color within the black community. The costumes, the music’s infectious island rhythms, and the affecting story combine to make the musical a parade that satiates the senses and the emotions. Through Sunday at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Spoon River Anthology — American Century Theater — **1/2. Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 collection of poems about people living and dying in an Illinois town has been a staple of high school drama clubs since it was adapted for the stage in 1963. This visually commanding production reinvigorates the play, rejecting the usual graveyard setting in favor of a rocky, cavernous underworld where Spoon River’s departed — gamblers, skirt-chasers, liars, fighters, avengers and thieves among them — tell their stories and demand to be remembered. The production emphasizes the darkness and despair of these dead souls, and while it all gets a bit thick at times, the power of Mr. Masters’ poetry remains vigorous nearly 100 years later. Through Jan. 28 at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Subject Was Roses — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — ***. When young Timmy Cleary (Steve Kazee) comes home to the Bronx from World War II with a bunch of roses for his mother that he wants his father to take credit for, he provokes a new rupture in an already ulcerated family. This sturdy revival of Frank G. Gilroy’s 1964 slice-of-life drama features a sublime cast headed by Bill Pullman as the tough, resentful patriarch John Cleary and Judith Ivey as his crushed wife, who springs to life only through her flirtatious relationship with her son. The dialogue is sometimes gutsy, with bursts of unexpected humor, but often is blowsy and heavy with cross words and battling. The subject may be roses, but it doesn’t have to be talked to death. Through Jan. 29. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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