- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

OPENING

• Agnes of God — Silver Spring Stage. Science and faith collide when a postulant nun gives birth to an infant and claims it was a virgin birth. Opens tomorrow. 301/593-6036.

• Blind Date/Cita a ciegas — GALA Hispanic Theatre. A blind writer sits on his favorite park bench and connects with the personal stories of strangers. Opens tonight at the Tivoli. 202/234-7174.

• The Fall of the House of Usher — Synetic Theatre. Edgar Allan Poe’s thriller takes a trip through the sullen route of the human psyche. Opens Saturday. 703/824-8060.

• Hot Flashes, Power Surges, Private Summers, and Other Stories Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Rhodessa Jones gives three performances on the nature of womanhood and love. Opens Wednesday. 301/405-ARTS.

• Of Mice and Men — Olney Theatre Center. Friendship leads two men to find work and a life for themselves during the Depression. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

• The Taming of the Shrew — Shakespeare Theatre Company. Shakespeare explores the institution of marriage, separation between men and women, and the complicated road to love. Opens Tuesday at the Lansburgh Theatre. 202/547-1122.

NOW PLAYING

• Merrily We Roll Along — Signature Theatre — ****. Artistic director Eric Schaeffer’s chic and knowing revival of this Stephen Sondheim musical — a tuneful trip through the personal and professional lives of three friends — is based on a 1992 revision of the show that went back to the George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play that was adapted by George Furth for the musical’s book. Everything about it works: the top-drawer cast; the bold, hyperkinetic energy peculiar to the ‘60s and ‘70s; Jonathan Tunick’s brassy orchestrations recalling the heyday of Herb Alpert; James Kronzer’s blinding white curved-staircase set; and Robert Perdziola’s body-hugging period costumes rendered in acid greens and blues, screaming checks and plaids. Through Oct. 14. 703/820-9771.

• My Children! My Africa! — Studio Theatre — ***. Set in the South Africa of 1984, when anti-apartheid protests and sanctions ran bloody and fierce, Athol Fugard’s 1989 play telescopes the country’s far-reaching political and cultural turmoil down to an intense philosophical conflict between a teacher in a small black township who believes change comes about slowly and two bright students — a black teenager who will resort to bloodshed if necessary and an idealistic white girl eager to embrace a new era of equality but aware of the privileges her skin color has brought. The play tells us nothing new about apartheid, but James Brown-Orleans brings astonishing range and contained fury to the role of the teacher, and Yaegel T. Welch gives a breakout performance as the teenager, making this production a must-see. Through Oct. 21. 202/232-7267.

• Private Lives — Washington Shakespeare Company — *** ½. This gossamer-light staging of Noel Coward’s crystalline 1930 comedy — about a divorced upper-crust couple who rediscover each other in Deauville, France, and leave their new spouses to pick up the pieces — is modest but charming. Set in a cafe, it’s performed in a smallish room in the back of the Playbill Cafe, which puts the audience pretty much satiny cheek by jowl with the bejeweled, impeccably groomed characters onstage. Director H. Lee Gable packs class and sophistication into the production and makes good use of the small space. Add a couple of vivid portrayals, and you have the diamond-bright sparks that make “Private Lives” enduringly captivating. Through Sunday. 800/494-8497 • 33 Variations — Arena Stage — ***. A scholarly sleuth’s obsession with Ludwig van Beethoven is the subject of Moises Kaufman’s play, which is suffused with the melodious strains and emotional heft of classical music. Inspired by Beethoven’s masterpiece the “Diabelli Variations,” Mr. Kaufman investigated why the composer would devote four years to the composition at a time when he was ill and becoming increasingly deaf. His passionate curiosity is transferred to the character of Katherine Brandt (Mary Beth Peil), a dying musicologist who races against the clock to find the answer. The audience becomes intimately involved with her quest to discover what Beethoven really might have been thinking and feeling. Pianist Diane Walsh deftly interprets Beethoven, and the cast often bursts into song or inspired humming. Classical music lovers will be drawn into this dexterous exploration of musical inspiration and obsession. Through Sept. 30. 202/488-3300.

• The Unmentionables — Woolly Mammoth Theatre — *** ½. If this comedy had a slogan, it would be “Yankee, go home.” Directed with manic glee by Pam MacKinnon and featuring a uniformly superb cast, “The Unmentionables” asserts that not only should we go home, but we never should have left in the first place. America’s legacy in the play’s fictional West African nation is one of corruption, exploitation and woefully misguided altruism. A Christian missionary, a female TV star who wants “to do more,” a doctor with a conscience, and an opportunistic businessman and his chattering wife are among the characters whose good intentions and bad moves are exposed mercilessly without becoming mere caricatures of the “Ugly American.” The play is leavened by boisterous frenzy and cathartic laughs as it revels in juicily un-PC moments with potent wit and insight. Through Sept. 30. 202/393-3939. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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