- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

NOW PLAYING

The Civil WarFord’s Theatre — ★★½ The 1998 musical “The Civil War” is a song-cycle with lyrics based on actual Civil War-era letters and diary entries, sung at Ford’s by a cast of 16 whose ensemble singing is consistently fine. The drama of this oratorio, directed with an eye toward current tastes by Jeff Calhoun, is heightened by sepia-toned projections of photographs from the war and haunting archival images of the people. There is an emphasis on rousing pop anthems — the kind sung by Bob Seger — but after a while, everything tends to blend in a blur of vague passion. Through May 24. 800/899-2367.

HeroesMetroStage — ★★★½ Small pleasures can be found in this quiet comedy, directed with exquisite care by John Vreeke and featuring a trio of bravura actors. Originally titled “Le Vent des Peupliers” (“The Wind in the Poplars”), Gerard Sibleyras’ 2002 play — translated by Tom Stoppard in 2005 — centers on three old men, veterans of World War I, who pass their days at a soldiers home outside of Paris. Through May 17. 800/494-8497.

RagtimeKennedy Center — ★★½ Set at the dawn of the 20th century, this Tony-winning 1998 musical based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow — and presented here in an all-new production — tries to capture an entire nation and its brewing social problems — of race, labor and sex. It might have done the job better had it really immersed itself in that time. Still, what is there is enough to give you the flavor of the period, and Terrence McNally’s expansive book (along with music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens) offers up a troubled country trying to enjoy and make sense of itself at the same time. Through May 17. 202/467-4600.

The Rise and Fall of Annie HallTheater J — ★★★½ The romantic and career entanglements of young, self-absorbed New Yorkers is the focus of Sam Forman’s hip, laugh-out-loud funny musical comedy, an homage to Woody Allen movies tweaked with references to Twitter and Facebook. The world premiere, this month at Theater J under the seasoned direction of Shirley Serotsky, embraces trends and new technologies but doesn’t convey anything particularly new or insightful about relationships and the nuttiness of show business. But the material is presented in such a wildly entertaining way you just shrug and say “Whatever, dude.” Through May 24. 202/777-3210.

Rock ‘n’ RollStudio Theatre — ★★★★ Playwright Tom Stoppard gives anarchy a righteous beat in this sublime play, which melds his love of wordplay, cerebral characters, and rock music of the 1960s and ‘70s. The play goes between Cambridge and Prague in the intertwining stories of an academic, ivory tower communist Max (Ted van Griethuysen), and Jan (Stafford Clark-Price), a Czech intellectual and reserved revolutionary. Presented with white heat and tenderness by director Joy Zinoman, the production is a feast for the senses. The beauty of the language will make you weep, the look of the show captures the chaotic adrenaline rush of a live concert, the music will prick up your ears and the acting by the 17-member cast is something to be long savored. Through June 7. 202/332-3300

See What I Wanna SeeSignature Theatre — ★★★ Composer Michael John LaChiusa presents endless versions of the truth in his intricate, meditative chamber musical “See What I Wanna See,” directed with brooding sophistication by Matthew Gardiner for Signature Theatre. With equal parts elegance and eroticsm (this is not a show for the “High School Musical” set), “See What I Wanna See” explores the pliability of truth and how lies become real. Based on short works by the Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the musical features a challenging Asian-infused jazz score and intertwines three stories from three eras. Through May 31. 703/573-7328 (Ticketmaster), 703-820-9771 (theater).

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard and Kelly Jane Torrance

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