- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

OPENING

• Scenes from the Big Picture — Solas Nua. A day in the life of 20 Belfast residents, whose stories interweave and collide as they go about the city. Opens tonight at the Callan Theatre, Catholic University Drama Complex. 800/494-8497.

NOW PLAYING

• Animal Farm — Synetic Theater — ***. Big Brother and comrades in hooves merge in this innovative, tragicomic version of George Orwell’s barbed barnyard satire on Soviet totalitarianism and failed socialist governments. Director Paata Tsikurishvili and his choreographer wife, Irina, lived under communism, and their intimate knowledge of oppressive regimes shows through masterfully in the mingling of the absurd and the chilling. The director uses video not only as a surveillance technique but also to document some of the production’s most poignant and alarming moments. Yet some scenes become tedious, and a lack of cohesion makes the production less than sublime. Through Sunday at Rosslyn Spectrum. 703/824-6200.

• Blue/Orange — Theater Alliance — **1/2. An unhealthy obsession with oranges and a conviction that he’s Idi Amin’s son lead a London fruit vendor of Afro-Caribbean descent to be arrested and sent to a mental health facility. In Joe Penhall’s play, the vendor’s delusions become the battleground between a dedicated intern and his supervisor, who sees racism in the intern’s finding of schizophrenia. The acting is full of pyrotechnics, the dialogue is rapid-fire and the atmosphere is tense, but it comes off as hot-air psychobabble and more of a blustering power game than a probing inquiry into labeling the mentally ill. And good acting can compensate only so much for one-dimensional characters that remain undeveloped. Through June 3 at H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.

• Either Or — Theater J — **1/2. Australian writer Thomas Keneally, author of the book behind the movie “Schindler’s List,” tries his hand at playwriting with this examination of one Nazi’s struggle to reconcile duty and morality. Kurt Gerstein (Paul Morella) was a brilliant chemist who helped develop the gas that killed Jews in Nazi concentration camps; he was also a Lutheran of conscience who tried to alert the Allies and the Vatican to the atrocities. Here Gerstein comes across not as a restless saint who evokes our sympathy, but as a self-serving man who tries to cleanse himself of the blood on his hands. Full of exposition and narrative in the first act, the play offers no emotional entry until the second half. And the scenes of searing, speechless intensity don’t make up for it. Through June 3 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497.

• The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) — MetroStage — ****. Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s melodic and pun-filled parody of Broadway titans — Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jerry Herman and Kander and Ebb — is an unabashed joy for devotees of musical theater. Directed with tongue-in-cheek razzle-dazzle by Larry Kaye, MetroStage’s peppy production gives you plenty of reasons to do the old soft shoe. In fact, you’ll probably want to return a few times to catch the stuff you might have missed from laughing too hard. Through June 3. 800/494-8497.

• The Oracle — African Continuum Theatre Company — **. This allegorical fable about a young African princess named Charlotte who sets off to find the god who made her father king is visually striking but emotionally subdued. Written by Ed Shockley and based on a George Bernard Shaw story, the tale involves Charlotte in some harrowing adventures before she makes her way home, meeting on the way entities represented mainly by African-mask wooden puppets. Erika Rose is a lively, sinewy presence as Charlotte. But the puppets are clumsily wielded, the masks are not put to dramatic use, and the dialogue is long-winded and Byzantine. The play shows off the capabilities of the Atlas’ new Sprenger Theatre, but the production seems small, emotionally stiff and uninspiring. Through June 3 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. 202/529-5763.

• 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 June 24. 202/488-3300.

• Things of Dry Hours — Centerstage — ***. Naomi Wallace’s play is a poetic, romantic and politically explosive look at the role of Southern blacks in the American Communist movement of the 1930s. The play often has the dry, pedantic air of a lecture, so wordy it makes “Das Kapital” seem like a text message. Yet Miss Wallace layers the play in evocative language that is almost biblical in its intricate structure and rapturous style. Some of the scenes sizzle, and the acting is accomplished. Through June 3 at 700 North Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033.

• Titus Andronicus — Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***. Hats off to the Shakespeare Theatre Company for having the courage to mount a new production of this bloody-minded curiosity, traditionally demeaned as Shakespeare’s worst play and very possibly not entirely written by the Bard. Director Gale Edwards and her highly skilled troupe of actors transform the drama’s two-dimensional roles into surprisingly complex character studies. This is not an evening for the squeamish, but the production subtly transforms the Bard’s gory revenge tragedy into an attack on the use of violence as a universal solution. Through Sunday. 202/547-1122. — T.L. Ponick MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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