The Gospel at Colonus The Theater Alliance and the Atlas Theater Project. Gospel-music interpretation of Sophocles’ final Oedipus play, set in a black Pentecostal church. Opens tonight at the Capital Children’s Museum. 202/547-6839.
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. And 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.
Home Round House Theatre ***. Samm-Art Williams’ play “Home,” written in the mid-1970s, is more a fable than a play, with predictable plot points and a happy ending you can see coming from the Beltway. Yet the dynamic cast possesses such energetic inventiveness and director Thomas W. Jones II maintains such a whirligig pace that the production glosses right over the rough spots. The work charts the “I was lost, but now I’m found” progression of Cephus Miles, a black man from a farming family in the tiny town of Crossroads, N.C., a dot on the map that is thick with colorful characters. Cephus goes North, ends up homeless and returns to the farm to realize the land has been waiting for his touch all this time. The message is that we all need a place to return to, where we can be our true selves. Mature audiences. Through Sunday. 301/217-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Macbeth Folger Shakespeare Library ***. In director Joe Banno’s staging, Shakespeare’s “Scottish play” becomes a tale of political corruption in circa 1960 Louisiana. King Duncan (Tom Quinn) thus becomes an elected politician, and certainly the most clever moment comes in the first scene, when instead of casting spells, the witches are counting ballots by holding them up to the light recalling the Florida recounts of last year. The cast is solid, as one might expect from the Folger. Michael Tolaydo as Macbeth Duncan’s lieutenant, who is disappointed when Duncan names his son as heir is every inch an American Democrat. He is in fine form as he descends into despair and nihilism, with mannerisms that seem particularly inspired. Of the supporting players, Scot McKenzie is unnervingly good as Duncan’s heir, Malcolm. Mr. Banno’s interpretation is commendable in many ways and undeniably well-executed. It is irretrievably limited, though, by its circumstances. Since September 11, a bloodless, lawyer-dominated struggle over the presidency doesn’t seem so terribly important. Even the dullest spectator must admit that a good sword fight is more grand for concluding a play than what we have here: a “Reservoir Dogs”-style shootout. Through Sunday. 202/544-7077. Reviewed by Eric M. Johnson.
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. And post-September 11, the semi-autobiographical 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 Dec. 9. 202/488-4377. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Rapture MetroStage **1/2. Jeanne Marshall’s recently written play, directed by Diana Denley, focuses its attention on one of the less-known victims of the Inquisition, Lucrezia Vizzana, a nun in 17th-century Bologna, Italy, with a talent for musical compositions whose structure was in sharp defiance of the Roman Catholic Church. The cast does a remarkable job, the direction is diligent, the set and costumes are sparse but efficient, and the topic of religious intolerance is fascinating and timeless. The play sometimes offers a witty and biting dialogue but has a major flaw that no good or even excellent actor can overcome: There is no clear protagonist. According to historical records, printed in the playbill, Lucrezia went mad after being forced to stop composing, but we hear and see little or nothing of her madness. As a result, the play lacks focus and depth. Through Sunday. 703/548-9044. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.
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 Dec. 9. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Carol Johnson.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS