- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

NOW PLAYING

The Color PurpleKennedy Center Opera House — ★★★½ Does an “American Idol” have the chops to pull off a major role in an emotionally complex musical? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Fantasia, winner of the 2004 competition, has the voice and the presence to make an indelible Celie in the musical version of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Like the novel, the musical centers on Celie’s struggles and her letters to God, as well as the women who figure in her life: her sister Nettie (La Toya London), who is determined to escape a life of victimization and drudgery; the free-wheeling blues singer Shug Avery (Angela Robinson) beloved by both Celie and the abusive Mister (Rufus Bonds Jr.); and the inimitable Sofia (Felicia P. Fields), the pugilistic, takes-no-guff wife of Celie’s stepson Harpo (Stu James). With its strengthening message and richness of emotion, “The Color Purple” is truth in the footlights. Through Aug. 9. 800/444-1324

King LearShakespeare Theatre — ★★★ Fathers and daughters grapple for domination in director Robert Falls’ sex- drugs- and rock-‘n’-roll-charged production at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Originally staged at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Mr. Falls’ vision of Shakespeare’s vengeful tragedy about the violent follies of youth and old age eschews the classical fairy tale about ungrateful offspring in favor of an in-your-face approach that centers on politics — sexual, familial, power. Sexual frankness (there is not only nudity, but also depictions of various sex acts and rape) is one of the aspects of this challenging production, but more darkly disturbing is the preponderance of wartime horrors and abuses of power. Stacy Keach makes an interesting Lear, but not a great one. Through July 26. 202/547-1122.

Lyle the CrocodileImagination Stage — ★★★½ Based on two picture books by Bernard Waber and adapted by Minnesota playwright Kevin Kling, the play has an upbeat message about liking people (and other creatures) simply for who they are that will warm up even the most coldblooded humans when coupled with the impishly ingratiating personality of the title character. Who wouldn’t want some croc like Lyle, as lovingly personified by Matthew McGloin in a gymnastic and inventive performance, hanging around? Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Through Aug. 9. 301/280-1660.

Radio GolfStudio Theatre — ★★★ The final installment in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle depicting black life throughout the 20th century takes place in 1997. Directed by Ron Himes, the production is rendered with a sincerity that does not completely capture the play’s dynamism. “Golf” takes place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and depicts wealthy upper-class blacks striving to become richer and more powerful. Harmond Wilks (Walter Coppage) aspires to be the city’s first black mayor, and his social-climbing friend and business partner Roosevelt Hicks (Kim Sullivan) wants to be a radio magnate as well as head honcho for their urban-redevelopment project — which would raze much of the community. Nothing seems to stand in their way, except that one of the houses slated for demolition is 1839 Wylie Ave. — which fans of Mr. Wilson’s plays will remember as the home of Aunt Ester, the neighborhood healer who was as old as slavery. Through July 19 202/332-3300.

The Year of Magical ThinkingStudio Theatre — ★★★ You’ve probably had one of those years when one bad thing happens after another. Writer Joan Didion did, first losing her husband, John Gregory Dunne, to a heart attack while her daughter, Quintana, was seriously ill and in a coma. Her award-winning memoir of this time, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” was adapted into a stage play that starred Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway. At Studio Theatre, Helen Hedman takes on the role of the author in an accomplished performance that offers hints of warmth and compassion beneath the steely, analytical exterior. Miss Hedman’s Didion approaches her story with immaculate precision, examining the events and her reactions as if dissecting tissue or parsing a sentence. This dispassion not only allows Didion — and the audience — some much-needed distance from reliving what is essentially unthinkable tragedy, but also allows for moments of droll humor. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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