- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

OPENING

• Brave New World: Identity. Community. Stand-up Comedy Kennedy Center Family Theater. John, a popular high school senior, finds himself stepsiblings with Lexie, an honor student who couldn’t be more his opposite. Tomorrow—1/27Saturday. 202/467-4600.

• Midwives — Round House Theatre Bethesda. A seasoned midwife takes desperate measures to save a baby’s life after she thinks the mother has died during childbirth. Opens Wednesday. 240/644-1100.

• Velvet Sky — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Bethany’s husband whisks her son away in the middle of the night, beginning a hallucinatory journey with comic overtones. Opens Monday. 202/393-3939.

NOW PLAYING

• Autobahn — Studio Theatre Secondstage — **. Can the car be a moving confessional, where you find out more than you ever wanted to know? Neil LaBute’s brutish evening of skits, six playlets that take place in the front seats of cars, answers that with a “yes.” But the array of psychoses on show is enough to make you take the bus. Shock value is Mr. LaBute’s stock in trade, but since the skits here are so sketchily formed, there is no weight behind the jolt. It is just an HOV lane’s worth of crazies and malcontents. You’ll want to pass them and drive away as soon as possible. Through Feb. 5. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• 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.

• Measure for Measure — Folger Theatre — ***. Shakespeare’s labyrinthine plot revolves around the contradictions arising when those who legislate morality for others arrogantly deny their own moral failings. The production itself is a discordant amalgam of art deco backdrops, bizarre, allusively symbolic costuming and occasionally ineffective musical interludes. Happily, it usually works. And the acting is first-rate, abetted by an inspired decision to cast minor characters and disguised principals as nearly life-sized commedia dell’arte-style puppets. Dramatically, this is not Shakespeare’s most gripping play. But the production does challenge the audience to debate its own certainties. Through Feb. 26. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Nevermore — Signature Theatre — ***. The personal and literary excesses of the tormented Edgar Allan Poe — his drinking, gambling, philandering and drug-taking, his marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin and his mysterious death after being found semiconscious in a Baltimore gutter — are the inspiration for a new work by Matt Conner that uses Poe’s poetry as the lyrics for a nonlinear song-cycle. Directed by Eric Schaeffer, it’s over the top in an Anne Rice-Vampire Lestat way, laying on the emotion and passion with a velvet-cloaked dagger. It could use some work and more variation in the music, but those who are not afraid of heightened states and otherworldly dimensions will find it frighteningly effective. Through Feb. 26. 703/218-6500. 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 Saturday 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 Sunday. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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