- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

NOW PLAYING

The Imaginary InvalidShakespeare Theatre — ★★★½ Rene Auberjonois’ hearty hypochondriac is one of the slapstick pleasures of director Keith Baxter’s mirthful and music-filled production of Moliere’s final work. Mr. Baxter’s lustrous staging is very much in keeping with the playwright’s original intent of a court performance for Louis XIV. Through July 27. 202/547-1122from Web.

The Lion KingKennedy Center — ★★★ “The Lion King” roared into town festooned with awards, its nine-week engagement here virtually sold out. This juggernaut of a musical is crammed with scenery, action, vibrant lighting effects, actors tumbling through space, musical power, an orchestra in the pit, a drummer on each side of the stage, belt-it-out soloists and a chorus, with most of the music by Elton John. Whether or not you’re enthralled by this Disney extravaganza probably will depend on your view of the Disney franchise. Through Aug. 24. 202/467-4600

The OverwhelmingContemporary American Theater Festival — ★★★★ “The Overwhelming” focuses on the Twilight Zone of a Rwandan society in which nothing is ever as it appears. The play takes in these events as we might, through the eyes of classic liberal professor Jack Exley (Lee Sellars). He has just arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, to research a book on the medical work of his old college roommate and now Rwandan physician, Joseph (Avery Glymph). Exley brings along his new wife, Linda (Tijuana T. Ricks), who happens to be black, as well as his sullen but highly intelligent white son, Geoffrey (Graham Powell). Playing in repertory with two other plays at the CATF at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va. Through Aug. 3. 304/876-3473; 800/999-2283

Pig FarmContemporary American Theater Festival — ★★★ “Pig Farm” is lots of fun if you’re the kind of person who won’t get squeamish over the buckets of blood that drench the play’s finale. The surreal world of “Pig Farm” is not too far in the future, when Environmental Protection Agency enforcers pack the kind of heat and authority heretofore limited to G-men like Eliot Ness and the Untouchables. Tom (Lee Sellars) and Tina (Andrea Cirie) run a factorylike pig farm, supporting up to 15,000 porkers and the waste products they produce. Because of federal regulations, they have to cheat a bit around the edges to stay solvent. This attracts the attention of EPA agent Teddy (Anderson Matthews), who decides to try to shut them down. Things are complicated by the oversexed Tina’s desire for a baby — a desire not on Tom’s agenda. The cast delivers an energetic, over-the-top performance. Playing in repertory with two other plays at the CATF at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va. Through Aug. 3. 304/876-3473; 800/999-2283

Stick FlyContemporary American Theater Festival — ★★★ Three stars Playwright Lydia R. Diamond’s “Stick Fly” offers an unusual glimpse into the lives of a wealthy, dysfunctional black family summering on Martha’s Vineyard. Miss Diamond is extraordinarily successful, daring to examine the possibility that perhaps it’s not race, but social class and pressures that more strongly influence our personal outcomes. Playing in repertory with two other plays at the CATF at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va. Through Aug. 3. 304/876-3473; 800/999-2283

Stuff HappensOlney Theatre Center — ★★★ Recent events are turned into the stuff of epic tragedy in David Hare’s frequently gripping political drama, a Washington premiere being given a polished, impeccably acted staging at Olney under the gifted guidance of director Jeremy Skidmore. Mr. Hare, a British playwright, wrote the play in 2004 as a meticulous timeline showing how President Bush dug in his heels with his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and why then-Prime Minister Tony Blair chose to follow his lead. Mr. Skidmore has assembled a top-notch cast of actors who rise above comedic impressions. Through Sunday as of 7/9. 301/924-3400

A View of the HarborContemporary American Theater Festival — ★ Playwright Richard Dresser takes us to coastal Maine to explore the lives of a declining family of wealthy white industrialists who seem more unhappy than anyone alive, excepting the patriarch of the family, the seemingly heartless Daniel (rousingly portrayed by Anderson Matthews). Sadly, Mr. Dresser’s play is not up to the standards of his earlier installments. Worse, actors fumbled their lines, indicating some changes may have been made during rehearsals, although this is not uncommon in a new play. Playing in repertory with two other plays at the CATF at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va. Through Aug. 3. 304/876-3473; 800/999-2283

WrecksContemporary American Theater Festival — ★★★★ “Wrecks” starts working on audience members as they walk into a large rehearsal room in Shepherd University’s new Center for Contemporary Arts. They are greeted by a somber person in a black suit who offers them seating. They find themselves at a wake in a funeral parlor with a casket in the center. A man in business attire enters and begins to speak. He is Edward Carr (Kurt Zischke), a boomer in late middle age. His late wife is in the casket. Carr rambles on about his beloved spouse, gradually filling in the story of their strange and passionate relationship. The trick is to listen carefully to Neil LaBute’s subtle dialogue. Clues to a deeper story are revealed at the last moment, transforming “Wrecks” into an odd whodunit that packs a big surprise. Playing in repertory with two other plays at the CATF at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, W.Va. Through Aug. 3. 304/876-3473; 800/999-2283

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard, Jean Battey Lewis and T.L. Ponick.

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