- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

Eleanor: Her Secret Journey Arena Stage's Kreeger Theatre. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt, portrayed by Jean Stapleton, struggles with difficult questions after the death of her husband. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-4377.
To Kill A Mockingbird Ford's Theatre. A principled attorney defends a black man accused of rape in 1930s Alabama. Opens tonight. 202/347-4833.

Agamemnon and His Daughters Arena Stage's Fichandler Theatre ***-1/2. This three-hour production packs in plays by Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, including "Agamemnon," "Iphigeneia at Aulis," "Iphigeneia in Tauris" and the individual stories of Klytaimestra, Elektra and Orestes. Kenneth Cavander's madly paced, entertaining adaptation contains many compelling male roles but is definitely fueled by girl power: In the vision of Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, Ancient Greece ran amok with young and old women who were fierce with power, proudly feminine and not afraid to use their force or their sexuality when the need arose. The play is fast, furious and sometimes funny, even in its bleakest moments. Don't try to keep track of the characters or look for Aristotelean logic. Just go with the loopy flow of Miss Smith's production, which is "girly" in the best sense of the word. Through Oct. 7. 202/488-4377. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Grand Hotel Signature Theatre **-1/2. The 1989 musical depicting the revolving-door lives and fortunes of guests in an elite European establishment gets the grubby, world-weary "Cabaret" treatment in this production, directed by Eric Schaeffer. Granted, the setting is 1928 Berlin, but some aspects of life were still light and hopeful then. The show boasts gorgeous singing. Yet in the end, the relentless starkness and desperation in all guises seen in this production make it more of the Bates Motel than "Grand Hotel." Through Oct. 7. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
The Oedipus Plays The Shakespeare Theatre ***. Artistic Director Michael Kahn has crafted a blazing, immediate production of "The Oedipus Plays" by Sophocles, and has masterfully compressed "Oedipus Rex," "Oedipus at Colonus" and "Antigone" into a single theater experience. Using a new translation by Nicholas Rudal which is so plain-speaking at times the shades of humor shine through and a sun-deepened North African setting and palette, "The Oedipus Plays" are a far cry from the declamatory speeches and togas we normally associate with Greek tragedy. From the almost dancing colors of Charles McClennahan's rough stone and hammered gold set to the tribal-ritualistic singing and movements of the chorus, this show really flies. The pacing is swift and absolute as the various characters march toward their destinies. Avery Brooks plays Oedipus with a rich, rumbly baritone and a swagger befitting a king. "The Oedipus Plays" are a worthwhile experience, especially for Mr. Brooks' performance, the stupendous look of the production, and the opportunity to see three classic Greek plays in a single day. Through Oct. 21. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
The Real Thing Olney Theatre Center for the Arts **-1/2. Tom Stoppard's 1984 play about mature love, "the real thing" in all of its messiness and vigilant reinvention, is hailed as his first "feelings" play and was revived on Broadway in 2000. Directed with intelligence and taste by Cheryl Farone, Olney's staging of the play is a perfectly decorous production smart and funny. But you wish for some of the disarray in a complex world of lovers and liaisons that Mr. Stoppard explores in the work. All the elements are in place a wonderful play, a sensitive and gifted cast, a nifty revolving stage by Hallie Zieselman. What is missing is chemistry. In a play about love, where people are proclaiming they can't live without him or her, there is curious little fire down below. The actors catch fire so infrequently, it might as well be on radio. Through Sunday. 410/481-7328. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Rocket to the Moon Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Theater J ****. Times are tough for everyone during a steamy New York summer in 1938, especially for a middle-aged dentist with a paralyzing fear of doing the wrong thing. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a shrewish wife but teased by the possibility of an affair with his young secretary, he gives in but not before struggling mightily. Clifford Odets' play is an indictment of marriage, which it likens to death. But this fabulous co-production, crisply paced under director Grover Gardner, looks at more than the moral struggles of a marriage on the rocks. What is the moral obligation people have to themselves? To love? And what is the obligation of a government when children and sick old women are going hungry? The play makes broad social commentary and small observances about husbands and wives, but does it with belly laughs and those ripple over an undercurrent of despair. Who knew such lyricism could exist in a dentist's office? Blessed with a standout cast, "Rocket to the Moon" is a wild ride, one that deserves a return ticket. Through Oct. 7 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Carol Johnson.
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. But the audience-participation murder-mystery farce (set in a Georgetown hair salon) is well-played 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.

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