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Theater Minis

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

OPENING

• Three Sistahs — MetroStage. The blues musical set in the 1960s showcases the lives of three "sistahs" as they revel in their past and present and look forward to their future. Opens tonight. 800/494-8497.

NOW PLAYING

• The Araboolies of Liberty Street — Imagination Stage — ***. This affable and rumble-tumble world-premiere musical for children about the life-sapping qualities of too many rules is based on Sam Swope's 1989 picture book. It introduces a crew of gypsyish Cirque du Soleil types called the Araboolies into a straight-laced, repressive neighborhood. The Araboolies, who speak a quasi-Jamaican patois, shake up the community by being not just different, but happy. The message about racial bias is imparted gently, but it's clear — the presence of foreigners and ethnic groups changes the neighborhood, and for the better. Through Aug. 12. 301/280-1660.

• Brooklyn Boy — Olney Theatre Center — ***1/2. Donald Margulies' funny, pain-soaked memory play, brought to life in a beautifully acted and visually dazzling production by director Jim Petosa, takes a successful autobiographical novelist back to home turf and the miserable mother lode of his material — his caustic, fault-finding father and the neighborhood where he is now an outsider. Mr. Margulies' sharp, acutely observed writing is a pleasure through most of the play, although the ending is rather pat and contrived. Through Aug. 12. 301/924-3400.

• Democracy — Olney Theatre Center — ***1/2. This production of Michael Frayn's history play, set in West Germany in the 1960s and early '70s, at the height of the Cold War, challenges both the intellect and the senses. It examines West German Chancellor Willy Brandt's efforts to better relations between West and East Germany, framing that within the human relationship between Brandt and his devoted personal assistant, later unmasked as an East German spy. Acting, direction, set and lighting are impeccable, all coming together to pose the question: How can we be so capable of loving and betrayal? Through Aug. 12. 301/924-3400.

• The Drunkard — Solas Nua — **1/2. Leading Irish playwright Tom Murphy has adapted a 19th-century American temperance play to Ireland in the 1800s, and Solas Nua's visually expressive and entertaining production manages to crank new life into a creaky form through the use of small wooden puppets, shadow play, masks and some peppy original Irish music. But even as Mr. Murphy adds a social-reform context to the original hammering morality play about the evils of drink, the convoluted plot is mired in drawn-out exposition. And this melodrama is three hours long. Through Sunday at Georgetown University's Devine Theatre. 800/494-TIXS.

• Godspell — Olney Theatre Center — ***. One of the charms of this '70s musical is its simplicity. John-Michael Tebelak's musical retelling of the Gospel of Matthew has a humble, experimental quality and doesn't need a lot of embellishment. That's why overproduced, gimmicky productions like this one leave one baffled and exhausted instead of exhilarated. The gimcrackery, the multimedia blitz and the telegraphing of every moment makes you wonder if the director doesn't trust the source material. Through Aug. 5. 301/924-3400.

• Hamlet — Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***. Director Michael Kahn's production of Shakespeare's introspective revenge tragedy is a green and gutsy production all around, imbued with a certain wildness and the hormonally antsy angst of misunderstood youth. Witty young touches abound as Hamlet woos the young Ophelia via IPod downloads, and cell phones go off during rehearsal. Sets and costumes are sleekly contemporary. However, in spite of its caffeinated energy, when it is time for Hamlet to take action, or for us to feel for Ophelia's madness or Gertrude's anguish, behind the buzz, there is nothing but emptiness. Through Sunday. 202/547-1122.

• My Name is Rachel Corrie — Contemporary American Theater Festival — No stars. This monologue, drawn from the journals and e-mails of its eponymous real-life heroine by British writer-actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katherine Viner, gives voice to the American peace activist who was crushed to death in 2003 when she stood in the path of an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza. In a brilliant performance, Anne Marie Nest as Rachel breathes real life into the material. But Miss Corrie's writings have been deftly edited to soften her links to the pro-Palestinian front organization that sponsored her trip. Her writings, as well as a didactic video postscript, amount to an adolescent manifesto and unintentionally paint the portrait of a coddled, self-absorbed young person searching in vain for the meaning of life. Through Sunday. 800/999-2283. — T.L. Ponick

• 1001 — Contemporary American Theater Festival — ***. Bizarre, intriguing, sometimes maddening but always challenging, Jason Grote's take on the "1001 Nights" easily could become the hit of CATF's 2007 season. Don't expect a linear plot, as the play uses the classic work's embedded frame-tale device to travel through time. It examines human tribal narratives and asks whether we are all doomed to remain trapped within our own endlessly recycling story lines. It's heady stuff, with excellent acting, often astonishing special effects, irresistibly madcap forward motion and unexpected bursts of off-the-wall humor. Through Sunday. 800/999-2283. — T.L. Ponick

• The Phantom of the Opera — Kennedy Center Opera House — **1/2. With accomplished singing, sumptuous costumes, gorgeous sets and impressive effects, the Cameron Mackintosh/Really Useful Theatre Company's national touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical feels perfectly at home in the District's most prestigious showbiz venue. Tenor John Cudia leads the 36-member company with aplomb as the Phantom, and Marni Raab is at times captivating as Christine, his protege. But Mr. Lloyd Webber's score, once so imaginative, is now a little dated and isn't helped by the lackluster performance of the Opera House Orchestra, led by Glenn Langdon, which may as well have phoned it in. Through Aug. 12. 202/467-4600. — Kelly Jane Torrance

• The Pursuit of Happiness — Contemporary American Theater Festival — **. Richard Dresser's new comedy takes a lighthearted and at times satirical look at how a middle-class family in Maine seeks out wealth, joy and intellectual challenge — as defined by others. It's part of an in-progress trilogy exploring success in America as seen through the lens of social class, and it centers on the dilemma faced by working parents whose only child, a high-school overachiever, balks at college. Mr. Dresser is a witty writer, but the play's characters are largely two-dimensional caricatures, and its serious conflicts melt away into a "Leave It to Beaver" ending. Through Sunday. 800/999-2283. — T.L. Ponick

• Reefer Madness: The Musical — Studio Theatre 2ndStage — **1/2. This 1999 musical version of the cult midnight movie from the 1970s, a film originally made in 1936 to warn youth about the crazy-making qualities of marijuana, produces a temporary buzz that is fun while it lasts. The cast is energetic, the performances uniformly excellent. Its efforts to recreate the B-movie excesses of the original film are enjoyable and entertaining. Yet the musical is essentially a one-toke experience, two acts that draw on the same stoner material. It makes you giddy as secondhand smoke — until the slightness and slapdash aspects of the show begin to dawn on you. Through Aug. 5. 202/332-3300. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS