- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

OPENING

• Fanny’s First Play — The Washington Stage Guild. George Bernard Shaw’s comedic play within a play about Fanny O’Dowda, a young playwright, and her father. Opens tonight at 1901 14th St. NW. 240/582-0050.

• Haroun and the Sea of Stories — Theater Alliance. A master storyteller loses his ability to tell stories after a traumatic event but is rejuvenated when his son finds the fabled Sea of Stories. Opens tonight at the H Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497.

• The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie — Studio Theatre. A teacher in 1930s Scotland attempts to mold a group of girls in her own image, but the game turns dangerous. Opens Wednesday at the Metheny Theatre. 202/332-3300.

• The Rainmaker — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater. One woman’s dreams of love are wilting away until one day a stranger comes along and pursues her. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

NOW PLAYING

• Awake and Sing! — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — **. Zelda Fichandler, founding artistic director at Arena Stage, has returned to the District to direct this Clifford Odets classic of a first-generation Jewish-American family in the Bronx as it struggles through the Depression. She has assembled a superior cast headed by Robert Prosky as the family’s waning patriarch. However, the Odets’ message that capitalism is dead lends a quaint Bolshevik air to the play and results in a lot of windy, stagy speechifying. Take away the left-wing proselytizing and what’s left is a drearily commonplace ethnic family drama. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Death and the King’s Horseman — The Washington Shakespeare Company — ***. This vigorous and dreamlike 1975 play about racism and the effects of cultural superiority, by Nigerian playwright and author Wole Soyinka, is based on real-life events in Nigeria in 1946. The stiff Brits of colonial Africa came up against Yoruba rituals after a district officer tried — with disastrous repercussions — to halt what he believed was a barbaric practice, the ritual suicide of the king’s chief horseman following the king’s death. The ardent production is rife with symbolism, ritual movement, music, chanting and drumbeats and shows that when one society suppresses another, both are diminished. Through March 12 at Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Don Juan — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***. Director Stephen Wadsworth, using his own new, brashly conversational adaptation/translation of Moliere’s comedy, floridly attempts to recapture the anxious bluster of that opening night in Paris on Feb. 15, 1665, when Moliere’s company performed it before King Louis XIV. Scandal and suppression followed, but not because of the sex. It was Don Juan’s libertine mind that flipped everyone’s periwigs. The staging is beautiful, the costumes and lighting opulent, the performances devilishly good. But Mr. Wadsworth’s histrionic production emphasizes extremes and ends up compromising the subtlety and charm of Moliere’s play. Through March 19. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Dybbuk — Theatre J and Synetic Theater — ***. This new adaptation of Russian ethnographer S. Anski’s 1914 Yiddish play — whose name refers to the wandering soul of someone who died before his time, in this case a dead lover who enshrouds his beloved — marks a collaboration between the movement-based Synetic Theater company and Theater J, known for its dialogue-rich productions of Jewish-themed works. Director Paata Tsikurishvili and co-adapter Hannah Hessel move the action to the Caucasus region of Georgia, and the production becomes, at times, a vibrant showpiece for Georgian-Jewish culture. However, the play’s impact lies in the unearthly beauty and yearning expressed in the scenes where the spiritual and corporeal worlds delicately intermingle. Through March 19 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. 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. Under the disgusted, ruthless gazes of Tom’s friends, this love doesn’t stand a chance. Through March 12. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Heiress — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **. A congenital wallflower whose plain looks and lack of charm make her unloved even by her own family becomes a cool, calculating woman when she realizes her worth is based entirely on the money she will inherit. This handsomely appointed staging of Augustus and Ruth Goetz’s well-made play, based on Henry James’ novel “Washington Square,” offers a few discreet pleasures — among them Ted van Griethuysen’s performance as the effortlessly patrician father, Effie Johnson’s as the heiress and Halo Wines’ as a giddy but canny aunt. Set and costumes are sumptuous. But the decorous, sometimes stultifying, production is more like a pretty magazine spread than a searing statement on valuing beauty above all and withholding love when someone does not satisfy your impossible standards. Through March 12. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hip Hop Anansi — Imagination Stage — ***. Adapted by Elsa Davis from the story “Anansi and His Sons,” this hip-hop version features a trickster spider named Anansi (Fred Michael Beam), 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.” Through April 13. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Murder of Isaac — Centerstage — **. Too controversial to be produced in the playwright’s native country, Israeli Motti Lerner’s ferociously political drama explores religious and xenophobic zealotry, the tyranny of war and peace, and whether we fear God or condemn him, within the confines of a hospital ward in Israel specializing in post-traumatic stress disorders. This U.S. premiere introduces American audiences to a vivid, imaginative voice, but the play is assaultive rather than challenging, with a stridency that ultimately estranges the audience. Through March 12 at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/986-4008. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Nevermore — Signature Theatre — ***. The personal and literary excesses of the tormented Edgar Allan Poe 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 Sunday. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Two Queens, One Castle — MetroStage — ***. This deeply affecting musical parable about trust within a marriage tells the autobiographical story of the celebrated entertainer Jevetta Steele of the gospel singing family the Steeles, who discovered that her husband, the father of her two sons, was a closet homosexual and HIV-positive. With a tuneful mix of funk, blues, jazz, R&B and gospel provided by William Hubbard and J.C. Steele (Miss Steele’s brother), this story of the Wife (Felicia Curry), the Husband (TC Carson), and the Lover (Gary E. Vincent) makes of Miss Steele’s private anguish a blazing public confession. Her lyrics often crackle with an anger that cannot be vanquished either by faith or years of therapy. Through Sunday. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Velvet Sky — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s creepy, mesmeric play follows a woman who tracks her 12-year-old son through a series of New York adventures, all the while trying to keep him away from the Sandman, a malevolent figure who preys on children — and who may or may not be a hallucination. The evocation of a nightmarish state is one of the more compelling aspects of this production, a grandly delusional and paranoid dreamscape directed with a delectable sense of the macabre. It’s never clear what is real and what is supernatural, but if you are prone to bad dreams, “The Velvet Sky” may give you a sleepless night. Through Sunday. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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