- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

NOW PLAYING

* Antony and Cleopatra — ** “Antony and Cleopatra” is not Shakespeare’s most compelling drama. The Bard’s take on this epic tragedy-history grows long and windy trying to cover the endless complexities of its political, military and emotional tangle. That having been said, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new production at Sidney Harman Hall manages to uncover the dramatic heart of this problem play. With the help of a strong cast under the knowing direction of Michael Kahn, this “Antony and Cleopatra” brings form, function and genuine pathos into the play’s unwieldy structure. Running in repertory with “Julius Caesar” through July 6. 202/547-1122

* Carmen - - *** Synetic’s “Carmen” demonstrates what the company does best - dramatic visuals set to music and outstanding physical expression that is so precise words almost seem superfluous. Synetic Theater’s violently passionate, combative staging takes elements from Prosper Merminee’s novel and Bizet’s opera and adds the distinctive touches we have come to expect from the theatrical company. For starters, there is no “Habanera” or “Toreador Song”- instead, the live music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze is a modern, almost electric jazz-rock mix of violin (Rafael Javadov), keyboards (Mr. Lortkipanidze) and guitar (Serge Krichenko). Similarly, Carmen (Irina Tsikurishvili) is not an unintentional siren, but a woman ruled by both her willfulness and her strong sense of fatalism. She blithely seduces the young soldier Jose (Ben Cunis) and leads him from a disciplined life to obsessed despair after she seduces through dance a string of other men - including a famous bullfighter (Phillip Fletcher). Miss Tsikurishvili’s portrayal of Carmen, with outthrust hips and serpentine undulations, is that of a sexual predator. You don’t get a sense that Carmen cares a whit for that poor sap Jose; the bullfighter (the commanding Mr. Fletcher) is more her equal. Mr. Cunis, in contrast, gives such a physically articulated portrait of frenzied emotion it’s as if his skin is turned inside-out. Through June 15. 800/444-1324

* Closing Time - - The American premiere of Owen McCafferty’s dark, gloomy 2002 play about dark, doomed drunks in a dark, doomed Belfast pub. Through Saturday June 7 . 703/892-0202, ext. 2

* Crumble (Lay Me Down Justin Timberlake) - - A lonely girl fantasizes about Justin Timberlake, her widowed mother fantasizes about Harrison Ford, and their apartment suffers in Sheila Callaghan’s play. Through Saturday. 202/494-3776

* David in Shadow and Light - - ** Rhythm and Jews converge in “David in Shadow and Light,” a world-premiere, chockablock postmodern musical about Old Testament stone-slinger King David by Yehuda Hyman and Daniel Hoffman, under the direction of Nick Olcott. Even though King David (played winningly by Matt Pearson in his youth and by a schizophrenically campy and somber Bobby Smith in his older days) can be seen as the ultimate multitasker - in more ways than one, as this Hebraic hottie had eight wives and countless paramours - it all becomes a biblical blur after a while. King David’s contradictions and ambitions are reflected in the music, a queasy hybrid of klezmer, cheesy bossa nova drumbeats, nursery rhymes and a smattering of hip-hop. Similarly, the libretto teeters between epic pronouncements, shticky double-takes and one-liners, and such anachronisms as having the circa B.C. David greeting everyone with a desultory “Hey.” Despite sublime violin playing from Mr. Hoffman and a cast in fine voice, there is more “oy” than joy in “David.” Through June 15. 800/494-8497

* In the Heart of America - - *** Naomi Wallace’s “In the Heart of America” gives poetic treatment to highly charged political issues in a production directed by Kasi Campbell that is notable for its strong performances and arresting visuals. This fragmented memory play is both a ghost story and a love story, set in the Persian Gulf (rendered as a place of unrelenting sun and shifting sand in Dan Conway’s stunning set) and a motel room in Kentucky. Fairouz Saboura (Dacyl Acevedo) is a young Palestinian-American woman searching for answers to her brother’s death in the Gulf War. The Army is not giving any information about Remzi (Alexander Strain), so Fairouz has initiated her own inquiry and is grilling his soldier buddy Craver Perry (Brandon McCoy), self-described “Kentucky trash.” The cast tries to soften the polemics with ardent performances, including Tim Getman as Remzi’s hypermacho commander, Boxler; Mr. Strain as the exquisitely conflicted Remz; and Miss Pham as Lue Ming, full of balletic determination. Through June 29. 410/772-4900

* The Internationalist - Studio Theatre - ***1/2 More fun than two packs of honey-roasted peanuts, “The Internationalist” is a slick and provocative comedy for our global age. An import from the New York-based theater company 13P, Anne Washburn’s play gives the standard fish-out-of-water plot an intercontinental, jet-lagged twist that is enhanced by the generic, modern sleekness of Debra Booth’s set and the sardonic crispness of the performances under the direction of Kirk Jackson. “The Internationalist” follows Lowell (Tyler Pierce), an American executive usually on top of his game, as he lands disheveled and disoriented (after a hilariously thorough strip-search at the airport, which ends with a Homeland Security employee giving him a wedgie) in some undetermined Eastern European country, an outpost of his home corporation. Mr. Pierce effortlessly elicits both empathy and laughs as a corporate go-getter brought low by a language barrier. Tonya Beckman Ross adds an air of mystery and perhaps duplicity to the role of Sara, while Holly Twyford is a clear-cut howl as the by-the-book executive Irene. Jason Lott’s expressions of utter panic are priceless in a number of roles, in contrast to the smooth elegance of James Konicek’s Paul and Cameron McNary’s obsessive office nerd, Nicol. Through June 22. 202/232-3300

* Julius Caesar - - **1/2 Image makes the man and proves his undoing in the Shakespeare Theatre’s majestic production of “Julius Caesar” under the direction of David Muse. The play is about the pitfalls of rhetoric and the astonishing power to make things happen by words alone. The assassination of Caesar (Dan Kremer) is nasty and brutish in this production; he is calmly and almost ritualistically stabbed in turn by his former allies. As is customary with the Shakespeare Theatre, “Julius Caesar” is a handsome production, and several performances stand out, including Scott Parkinson’s crafty, conversational turn as Cassius, Dean Nolen’s talent as a raconteur in his portrayal of Caska, and Aubrey K. Deeker as the delicately astute politician Octavius Caesar. Running in repertory with “Antony and Cleopatra.” Through July 6. 202/547-1122

* The School for Scandal - - ** Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 comedy of very bad manners and irresistible folly. Director Richard Clifford has assembled a dream cast, which includes deft comedians David Sabin, Kate Eastwood Norris, Tom Story and Catherine Flye. However, other than Miss Flye’s wickedly funny turn as a lisping flibbertigibbet who deludes herself into thinking she hasn’t an unkind bone in her body and Mr. Sabin’s measured wiliness as a codger completely flummoxed by the idea that his nubile wife (Miss Eastwood Norris, criminally underused) might have married him for money, the cast just seems to flit and flop carelessly about the stage. Through June 15. 202/544-7077

* The Visit - -****Signature Theatre has saved the best for last, with its four-month Kander & Ebb Celebration culminating in a sublimely haunting production of the musical “The Visit.” Directed by Frank Galati, it is at once both chillingly sophisticated and poignant. “The Visit” is the musical adaptation - the last one on which they collaborated before Fred Ebb’s death in 2004 - of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1956 tragicomic morality tale about a rich, elderly woman named Claire Zachanassian (Chita Rivera) who returns to her Swiss hometown of Brachen after many decades away. The once-thriving cultural epicenter has fallen into despair, and Claire offers to be the town’s Lady Bountiful on one condition: The citizenry must murder shopkeeper Anton Schell (George Hearn), Claire’s first and greatest love, who debased her when she was 17, forcing her to flee the town and become a courtesan. It’s grim business, but the beauty of “The Visit” is how deliciously John Kander and Fred Ebb, aided by Terrence McNally’s classily cynical book, revel in the macabre aspects of the story. Miss Rivera may be the diamond-hard class of this mood piece, but Mr. Hearn provides its soulful core in a performance that deepens from geniality to unselfish sacrifice. Through June 22. 703/573-7328.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Jayne Blanchard and T.L. Ponick

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