- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001


Blues in the Night Arena Stage. Three downtrodden divas bond through blues and jazz classics from the '20s and '30s. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-4377.
A Broadway Christmas Carol Round House Theatre. A zany musical take on the Dickens classic. Opens Wednesday. 301/933-1644.
Dirty Blonde Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Two lonely New Yorkers fall in love through their obsession with Mae West. Opens Wednesday. 202/467-4600.
Intimate Exchanges Source Theatre Company. Opens tonight. 202/462-1073.
Spain Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. A woman's imagination runs wild in hilarious ways after her husband leaves her. Opens Monday at the Kennedy Center's AFI Theater. 202/467-4600.


Hamlet The Shakespeare Theatre **1/2. Call it "Hamlet for Dummies." The Shakespeare Theatre's production telegraphs everything just in case you never have heard of the Melancholy Dane. The staging is about as subtle as a cudgel. Some death scenes are accompanied by "eee-eee-eee-eee" sounds straight out of "Psycho." Many of the actors shout their lines, perhaps to stir up energy, but they give the impression of a kingdomwide hearing problem. Luckily, the hurly-burly dies down during Hamlet's soliloquies, when Wallace Acton, delivering the famous speeches with a divine naturalness, uses nothing but his supple voice and gestures to reveal to us the quicksilver states of the prince's mind. Sybil Lines gives us a Gertrude of dignity and nuance. Also, led by Edward Gero as the ghost of Hamlet's father, the Players a traveling acting troupe hired by Hamlet to put on a play about the murder reach a magic and eloquence using greasepaint and worn props that the rest of the show never achieves. Through Jan. 6. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
A New Brain Studio Theatre ****. This ebullient production of William Finn's cerebral, stirring musical about getting a second chance at life is a show about living, about feeling grateful, about starting over. Post-September 11, the semiautobiographical musical, which stems from Mr. Finn's brush with mortality in the early 1990s, has an exhilarating message that Mr. Finn could not have figured on when he wrote it in 1997. The half-fantasy, half-reality structure offers up a real grab bag of melodies and moods, but Mr. Finn's consistent quirkiness and odd rhythms and rhymes somehow work. The Studio's production wisely underplays the profundity of the message, with director Serge Seiden delivering a show that is fun, dizzying and a bit impudent and naughty. Through Dec. 23. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Of Mice and Men Arena Stage ***. Director Liz Diamond's rawboned staging of the Steinbeck classic evokes a loneliness that is like the sound of a train whistle in the dead of night. Most productions concentrate on the disparate friendship between migrant farm workers George (Stephen Barker Turner) and his mentally impaired sidekick, Lennie (Jack Willis). The two are loners who don't need anybody else. In Arena's production, everyone on the California ranch where George and Lennie arrive for work is shrouded in isolation. The production is hard and brown, from the wood-plank set flanked by stone-pitted dirt to the earth-colored costumes by Ilona Somogyi. By taking this classic play down to nothing, the production reveals a calloused poetry. Mr. Willis is so adept at playing the simple-minded Lennie that you almost forget his sharp, canny Agamemnon in the last Arena production. As George, Mr. Turner is a hearty, on-the-ball contrast to the bumbling Lennie. He overdoes the haleness, however, and frequently shouts his lines and some of the other migrant workers get into the bellowing habit. The effect is disconcerting. Yet amid the noise and the hardness, "Of Mice and Men" contains a vital message: Without someone, you are no one at all. Through Sunday. 202/488-4377. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Shear Madness Kennedy Center Theater Lab **. This corny, hokey tourist trap now in its second decade is doubly maddening because the Kennedy Center displays it as art to the cultural center's unsuspecting pilgrims. The audience-participation murder-mystery farce (set in a Georgetown hair salon) is well-played, though, when the actors refrain from mugging and cracking up one another. The audience rambunctiously analyzes evidence and chooses the murderer in this campy, shtick-filled goof. Continues indefinitely. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Nelson Pressley.
Zander's Boat Signature Theatre **1/2. This American premiere of Grace Barnes' play is all about storytelling, as three women who live on Shetland, a bleak and remote Scottish island, recount their hopes and regrets. Their narratives are vivid, their words gorgeous. Yet with no real interaction among them and little in the way of action, "Zander's Boat" eventually is swamped in a static sea. Through Sunday. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Carol Johnson.

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