- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

OPENING

• Blue/Orange — Theater Alliance. The would-be son of an exiled African dictator struggles for his mental and physical freedom. Opens tomorrow at H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.

• The Oracle — African Continuum Theatre Company. Charlotte, a young African princess, sets out on a journey to discover the source of her father’s power. Opens tonight at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. 202/529-5763.

• Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead — Studio Theatre. The 40th anniversary production of Tom Stoppard’s comedic tragedy, in which Hamlet’s two schoolmates find themselves the reluctant heroes of their own play. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

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 May 20 at Rosslyn Spectrum. 703/824-6200.

• The Director: The Third Act of Elia Kazan — Round House Theatre Silver Spring — ***. A confessional memoir by local writer and director Leslie A. Kobylinski, this one-man show is an impressionistic look into the mind of the brilliant Broadway/Hollywood director whose achievements were overshadowed by his decision to cooperate with investigators probing communist influence in Hollywood in the 1950s — and his consequent shunning by the artistic community for more than 40 years. Rick Foucheux gives a laser-sharp performance, but the unstructured play sheds no new light on this complicated man. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100.

• The Heidi Chronicles — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — ***. Arena Stage revives the late Wendy Wasserstein’s 1989 work about women struggling with identity and compromise from the 1960s to the cusp of the 1990s with a deft touch and edgy darkness. Director Tazewell Thompson and an on-fire cast depict the stages in these women’s lives with conviction — especially the consciousness-raising and sisterhood movement of the 1970s — which gives the scenes power and clarity. It’s a warm and affectionate tribute to the late playwright that asks whether things are actually better for women today or if their subjugation is more subtly ingrained. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300.

• 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.

• New Kid — Imagination Stage — **. Dennis Foon’s undeniably earnest play about assimilation and bullying gives us a recent immigrant from Vietnam who struggles to fit in to an unfamiliar culture. The play practically turns itself inside out to please and instruct the audience, and while the performances are brisk and engaging, the strain of trying too hard impacts the overall appeal of the show. Through June 3. 301/280-1660.

• 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.

• Saving Aimee — Signature Theatre — **1/2. The flamboyance of Aimee Semple McPherson — the famous and glamorous female radio evangelist of the early 20th century whose religious empire was rocked by scandal — make her rich fodder for a musical. Passion for the subject matter is certainly evident in this world premiere: An almost Pentecostal fire roars through it, beginning with Carolee Carmello’s feverish, gripping lead performance. But the score is derivative, repetitive and unmemorable, and all the show-biz razzle-dazzle cannot conceal that as it stands, this musical just has no soul. Through Sunday. 703/820-9771.

• 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. Kudos as well to director Gale Edwards and her highly skilled troupe of actors, who 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 May 20. 202/547-1122. — T.L. Ponick MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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