- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

OPENING

• Crave — Signature Theatre. Four nameless characters tell their tales of disintegration and isolation against the pressures of love, loss and longing. Opens Monday. 703/820-9771.

• Emergence-See — Arena Stage. When a slave ship emerges in front of the Statue of Liberty, New York falls into a whirlwind of emotion in this Daniel Beaty one-man show. Tomorrow and Saturday only. 202/488-3300.

• Two By Pinter: The Collection and The Lover — Rep Stage. Two drama-filled works by Harold Pinter involving couples. Opens tomorrow at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900.

NOW PLAYING

• Desire Under the Elms — American Century Theater — ***. For his 1924 foray into American realism, Eugene O’Neill looked to the Greeks, incorporating elements of the Oedipus trilogy, “Medea” and “Phaedra” into his tragedy about a New England farming family. It’s a bodice-ripper, a tale of sex, revenge and a 19th-century game of “Who’s your daddy?” Character and psychological forces drive this stark and taut production, under the firm guidance of William Aitken. The strong acting and the epic characters make this “Desire” one that deserves to emerge from the shadows. Through Saturday at Gunston Theater II. 703/553-8782.

• Into the Woods — Signature Theatre — **1/2. This big, brainy Stephen Sondheim musical, which takes classic fairy tales and gives them an adult, sardonic spin, blends the classics with a new one involving a baker and his wife who struggle to lift a witch’s curse that prevents them from having children. It opens Signature’s new theater with a respectable and somewhat prosaic production, directed by Eric Schaeffer, in which nothing particularly inspiring stands out. The pace is agreeable and the music — some of Mr. Sondheim’s most far-reaching and intricate, with dastardly lyrics and rhyme schemes that not everyone can master — is well sung and performed, but an overall blandness pervades. The new building is gorgeous, airy and dramatic, and it will be fascinating to watch Signature adapt to it. Through Feb. 25. 703/820-9771.

• Jitney — Ford’s Theatre — ***. Produced in association with the African Continuum Theatre Company, this is the 1970s play in the late August Wilson’s 10-work cycle depicting 20th-century life for blacks. It’s set in Mr. Wilson’s home town of Pittsburgh in the city’s Hill District, at a gypsy cab station called Becker’s Car Service, a mecca for the neighborhood’s men. Rich with manly repartee, the play centers on the bitter reunion between Becker and his adult son, recently sprung from the state pen; it frames an intergenerational clash that pits the postwar era against the emerging thug-life culture of the late 1970s. Mr. Wilson’s words flutter and swoop with the musicality of jazz, and director Jennifer L. Nelson creates a convivial and enveloping environment to show men who depend on each other for their livelihood and as their touchstones to truth.

• King Lear — Folger Theatre — **. Director Alfred Preisser sets this “Lear,” a co-production by the Classical Theatre of Harlem and the Folger, in ancient Mesopotamia, where “an eye for an eye” became a legal precedent and the Code of Hammurabi reigned. Mr. Preisser also looked to Margaret Mead’s book “Sex and Temperament” as grounds for the production’s sprawling sexuality, with its strained intimations — unsupported by Shakespeare’s text — of father-daughter bonds that are sensual as well as familial. When the show is in motion, it is entrancing. The chiseled physicality of the cast members and the nimble athleticism of their dance movements invigorate the play. But the quality of the diction and the command of Shakespeare’s language teeters between accomplished and almost laughably wooden; even the delivery by Andre De Shields as Lear is erratic and melodramatic. Through Feb. 25. 202/544-7077.

• Macbeth — Synetic Theater — ***1/2. Something wickedly good this way comes as director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili combine forces for a vigorous, if wordless, take on Shakespeare’s tragedy about unchecked ambition and snowballing carnage. The visually arresting production mingles militaristic precision with sinuous supernatural touches, and the troupe relies on ingenuity and impeccable physical training in lieu of technical wizardry. The production may not draw you in right away, but grows in power and visual magnificence until its bloody climax. Though the words are unspoken, the lyricism is exquisitely expressed in movement and music that makes you see the playwright in a richly unexpected context. Through Feb. 25. 703/824-6200.

• Richard III — Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***. Ever since Shakespeare put quill to paper, “Richard III” has symbolized treachery and tyranny. Director Michael Kahn’s angular and brisk production presents Richard III as a blue-blooded assassin, but also as a consummate actor who assumes the roles necessary to get what he wants. And Geraint Wyn Davies’ Richard glitters with a malevolent charm. As silver-tongued as Satan, as flattering and goading as a celebrity publicist, Mr. Davies invites us to look beyond Richard’s disfigurements and see him as a lover, a warrior and a supple master of language. The cast is enormous and compelling, the production complex because of the tension between the death-march plot and the elusiveness of Richard III’s character. You’ll delight in this king’s dark company, even if you hate yourself for doing so. Through March 18. 202/547-1122.

• Sleeping Arrangements — Theater J — **. Laura Shaine Cunningham’s quirky memoir of growing up orphaned in a makeshift, nontraditional family in the Bronx of the 1950s is a beautifully written, warmly shocking work, where heartbreak and hilarity slap up against each other in equal doses. Very little of it is translated to the stage in director Delia Taylor’s production, a scattershot and unsettled memory play that never recovers from problems in pacing and tone; the pert, straightforward comedy of one-liners is at odds with the dreamlike, impressionistic structure of the piece. An accomplished ensemble cast compensates for the sketchy quality of the script by broad overacting. This is one work that plays far better on the page than the stage. Through Feb. 18. 800/494-8497.

• This Is How It Goes — Studio Theatre — ***. Playwright Neil LaBute’s latest foray into our knee-jerk reactions is a race-themed “Rashomon” with twists and kinks reminiscent of that master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. The issue is ingrained racism, and Mr. LaBute suggests that Generation X-ers and beyond may not be as colorblind as they profess. You’d never believe that bigotry could be entertaining, but Studio Theatre’s lively production, directed by Paul Mullins, makes an uncomfortable discussion a stinging pleasure. Through Feb. 11. 202/332-3300. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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