- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2007

OPENING

m Birds Rorschach Theatre.— A wealthy woman falls into the city’s urban underbelly after she gives a homeless man her lover’s coat. Opens Wednesday.6/27452-5538.

m Pangs of the Messiah — Theater J. A family expresses widely divergent responses after a peace treaty is signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Opens Saturday. 800/494-8497.

NOW PLAYING

m 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. But 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 July 29. 202/547-1122.

m Peter & Wendy — Arena Stage — …. Mabou Mines’ production of J.M. Barrie’s novel, adapted with a breathless sense of wonder by Liza Lorwin, underscores the melancholy and poignant aspects of that tale of enchantment and stolen children. It’s brooding and profoundly magical. Karen Kandel, a narrator of infinite grace and nimbly comic voices, tells the story surrounded by veiled puppeteers, the whole set to Celtic music. The charm of the three-hour piece wears thin in scenes, and some of the puppetry manipulation is awkward, but it’s a heady, cerebral experience on many levels. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300.

m Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead — Studio Theatre — ..1/2. Feelings of deja vu turn quickly to moments of fresh delight in this 40th anniversary revival of Tom Stoppard’s brainiac existential comedy about two minor characters from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” waiting in the wings for all eternity. A masterful centerpiece performance by veteran actor Floyd King as the Player is enhanced by a fantastic supporting cast of tragedians. Yet the portrayals of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are almost generic interpretations, and the production overall seems as airless and trapped as the main characters themselves. Through July 7. 202/332-3300.

m Summer of ‘42 — Round House Theatre Bethesda — ..1/2. You have such high hopes for this musical version of the 1971 movie, a nostalgic look back to one wartime Nantucket summer that is burned into many a memory as the quintessential coming-of-age film. The set design is vibrant and the acting is fine. But for all its visual beauty and the strength of the performances, the limp and inconsequential score — an amalgam of pallid ballads and big band music — keeps “Summer of ‘42” at perpetual low tide. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100.

m The Witches of Eastwick— Signature Theatre— ..1/2s Director Eric Schaeffer has worked with the creators of this musical comedy, John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe, and producer Cameron Macintosh to update the 20-year-old movie about a trio of discontented New Englanders who become empowered after some sexual healing. The emphasis is on sex, and this musical version is tarted up like a prostitute on Easter Sunday. The production values are superb, the cast almost absurdly talented, and some of the R-rated cheekiness is fun for a while. But many of the numbers seem like raunched-up “borrows” from other musicals, and the whole show is a pale imitation of better shows. Combine that with a frankly demeaning retro perspective that women can only achieve liberation and empowerment through an outside force, such as a man, and you have a “Witches” that bothers more than it bewitches. Through July 15. 703/820-7790.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS