- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

OPENING

• Citizen 13559: The Journal of Ben Uchida Kennedy Center Family Theater.— A world premiere play about a young Japanese American boy whose world changes overnight when his family is sent to a California internment camp during World War II. Opens tomorrow.3/10467-4600.

• Hamlet Rep Stage.— Shakespeare’s tale of a son’s revenge for his father’s murder. Opens Monday3/13oward County Community College. 410/772-4900.

NOW PLAYING

• 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 Sunday 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 Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The God of Hell — Didactic Theatre Company — **1/2. Sam Shepard’s biting farce, written just before the last presidential election in hopes that it would tip the balance, is a vituperative cautionary tale about the Bush administration. Two modest Wisconsin dairy farmers are leading a pleasantly boring life until a houseguest attracts the attention of a CIA-type operative. Then they become trapped under the jackbooted foot of big government. There is plenty to warm up to in Didactic’s production, directed with malicious high energy by H. Lee Gable. Yet the cast goes for the jugular in every scene, when perhaps a tad more pulling back might have resulted in more laughs. Through March 18 at Atlas Performing Arts Center. 202/399-7993. 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 Sunday. 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— ** sToo controversial to be produced in the playwright’s native country, Israeli playwright 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 SundayMarch 12 at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/986-4008. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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