- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 28, 2007

NOW PLAYING

M Dead Man’s Cell Phone — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ****. After you die, the body may decay but your ring tone lives on in Sarah Ruhl’s winsomely askew comedy, in which a lonely woman reflexively answers the ringing cell phone of a just-expired stranger and becomes enmeshed in his former life — with his wacko family, his tempestuous mistress and his nefarious line of work, trafficking in human organs. It’s an irresistible setup for physical comedy and wordplay, which Miss Ruhl concocts in abundance. This world premiere is directed with a sure hand by Rebecca Bayla Taichman, who deftly balances the satire, whimsy and sheer poetry of the piece. Through July 14. 202/393-3939.

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 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 show-biz 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

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 King 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 Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins — Studio Theatre — ****. Nancy Robinette, hitting notes that could fell cockroaches, is transcendent in her portrayal of tone-deaf songbird and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins in this bacchanalia of badness by Stephen Temperley. Jenkins, a real-life cult figure from the 1930s whose recordings can still be found, took the concept of vanity productions to giddy heights, even selling out Carnegie Hall to patrons who came not just for her vocal shrieks, but also for her ornate costume changes. Miss Robinette goes for it with gusto, but her portrayal never sways into parody. And this is more than a campy tribute to a tin ear. There is sweetness to the lunacy, and an admiration for a woman known for “stupendous folly.” Through Sunday. 202/332-3300.

m The Witches of Eastwick — Signature Theatre — **1/2.

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. 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