- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2007

NOW PLAYING

• Antigone — Forum Theatre at H Street Playhouse — **Forum Theatre’s production of “Antigone” is a departure for the troupe — no technological wizardry or use of mixed media, no stylized choreography. Striking visuals and nonlinear storytelling are sorely missed in a stiff and overly sincere production straightforwardly directed by Michael Dove.Of course, Jean Anouilh’s version of Sophocles’ ancient tragedy is heavy with great meaning and political messages. First performed in Paris in 1944 during the Nazi occupation, the play stresses the bitter choice between practical compromise and fixed idealism. In Mr. Anouilh’s vision, Antigone (Katie Atkinson) is not merely the headstrong and tragically dutiful daughter of Oedipus; she symbolizes the courage of the French Resistance movement. On the flip side, her uncle Creon (Nigel Reed), the king, represents Nazi occupiers and enemy collaborators.The cast moves in formal patterns around the precisely appointed set as if playing a Grecian form of chess. It’s all painstakingly formal and about as devoid of life as you can get. Power struggles, death, suicide, doing what is right versus being blindly obedient — this normally would be compelling fare. However, the stately pace and earnestly deliberate approach to the material, coupled with the almost ceremonial quality of Mr. Anouilh’s dialogue, renders “Antigone” nearly as dry as the dirt she uses to cover her brother’s corpse. Through Sunday . 202/489-1701.

• Fiddler on the Roof — Olney Theatre Center — *** Tradition is broken in director John Vreeke’s dark-tinged vision for this venerated 1964 musical, but on the whole, his changes make for a deeply textured, triumphant production about a traditional Jewish community forced to deal with sweeping social and political change in pre-revolution Russia. The vigorous score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick and lissome choreography match strong performances — starting with the most serious-minded Tevye (Rick Foucheaux) you’ve ever seen. The show works wonderfully well, although missteps exist and the ending allusions to pogroms and the Holocaust may disturb “Fiddler” traditionalists, especially because the original ending is touched with a ray of optimism. Through Jan. 1. 301/924-3400.

The House of Yes Washington Shakespeare Company — *** For many people, the Kennedy assassination is a horrific, iconic event seared into the retina of our modern consciousness. For twins Marty (Jason Stiles) and Jackie-O (Sara Barker), it is foreplay. Re-enacting the tragedy of Nov. 22, 1963, right down to the president”s hypnotic slow wave and the first lady”s pillbox hat and blood-stained pink suit, is just one of the stunning dysfunctions of the Pascal family, as seen in Wendy MacLeod”s jet-black comedy. Set in a leafy Northern Virginia suburb in the 1980s, Miss MacLeod”s self-described “suburban Jacobean play” is a darkly absurdist look at an American family forever trapped in the shadow of the Kennedys. Miss MacLeod”s work resembles a refined chamber of horrors, and director Colin Hovde astutely accentuates the scary laughs and inappropriateness of the family”s behavior without letting the production descend into camp. Through Jan. 13. 800/494-8497.

• Kafka — Washington Shakespeare Company — *** In the play (directed by Alan Bennett) Kafka — who died of tuberculosis in 1924 — abruptly finds himself transported to the 1980s and into the middle-class English living room of Linda (Adrienne Nelson) a former nurse, and her husband, Sydney (John Geoffrion) an insurance wonk with literary aspirations. Fans of Tom Stoppard’s metaphysics and witty verbal pyrotechnics and Joe Orton’s black humor will enjoy “Kafka,” although Mr. Bennett seems to become infatuated with his own cleverness and erudition, and the play natters on longer than seems necessary, especially in the second act. Running in repertory with “The House of Yes” Thursdays through Sundays. Through Jan. 13. 703/418-4808.

• Shining City — Studio Theatre — ***1/2 Supernatural spirits appear in vaporous form, although playwright Conor McPherson seems more concerned with ghosts of the spirit possessing two men living in modern-day Dublin. Ian (Donald Carrier) is a therapist and former priest holding close more than a few secrets of his own. His patient, John (Edward Gero), feels responsible for the death of his late wife, who he feels is haunting him. What makes “Shining City” distinctive is that the ghostly yarns of these two men are not told in labyrinthine, gothic language, but in fragmented, ricocheting dialogue that puts you in mind of Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and David Mamet. Because of Ian’s remoteness, the appearance of a ghost at the end of the play comes off as a gimmicky, empty shock. Mr. Gero’s ebulliently messed-up John brings “Shining City” to life, while Mr. Carrier appears to be a sleepwalking zombie. The play is ultimately about a ghost plaguing a ghost. Where’s the horror in that? Through Sunday. 202/332-3300.

• Shlemiel the First **1/2 — Theater J, Goldman Theater, Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Robert Bustein’s musical adaptation of I.B. Singer’s tales abounds in klezmer and slapstick. Through Jan. 20. 202/777-3210, 800/494-8497.

maximum rating: four stars

jayne Blanchard