- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

The Comedy of Errors Little Theatre of Alexandria. Contemporary telling of Shakespeare's comedy set against the backdrop of 1861 Mardi Gras. Opens tomorrow. 703/683-0496.
Fiddler on the Roof Mechanic Theatre. Popular musical about a Jewish father losing his daughters to marriage in pre-revolutionary Russia. Opens Tuesday. 410/752-1200.
Once On This Island Howard University Ira Aldridge Theater. Caribbean adaptation of the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid," told through song and dance. Opens Wednesday. 202/806-7700.

Contact National Theatre ***-. Not since Bob Fosse's "Dancin'" have we seen such an exuberant, stirring and razzle-dazzle evening of pure dance as "Contact," directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman and written by John Weidman. The show consists of three dance pieces, which are actually short stories told in movement. The first is titled "Swinging" and is based on a 1768 painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard of a fancily dressed woman being pushed on a swing by a male servant while her dandy lover looks delightedly up at her from the ground. Next up is "Did You Move?" It's a heartbreaking variation on the Walter Mitty escapist fantasy set in an Italian restaurant in Queens in the 1950s. The third piece is the most notorious, "The Girl in the Yellow Dress," featuring the most staggering entrance since Cyd Charisse in her green costume in "Singin' in the Rain." The show does what good dance ought to do: It tells a story, awakens the most surprising emotions and rebaptizes us in the wonder of the capabilities of the human body. Through March 16. 800/447-7400. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
The Duchess of Malfi Shakespeare Theatre ****.The Christmas holidays at the Malfi house must have been something. One brother is a cardinal (Edward Gero) and craven in every way. His brother, Duke Ferdinand (Donald Carrier), seems spoiled, petulant and maybe more than a little off his rocking horse. In the middle is the widowed Duchess of Malfi (Kelly McGillis), Ferdinand's twin sister. Her brothers want to rule over both her person and her lands. They don't want her to marry again. For the cardinal, this is a matter of pure greed. For Ferdinand, it is another matter altogether. Director Michael Kahn's production addresses the issue of incest head-on. The duchess does remarry, and in the midst of her bliss comes Bosola (Andrew Long), who starts out as a lackey and a mercenary for the two brothers. This being Jacobean tragedy, the body count rises and rises. Yet a gorgeous grace note is added by Mr. Kahn, who has the elegant, eloquent ghost of the duchess haunt the last half of the play and subtly prick Bosola's conscience. Through March 10. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Hambone The Studio Theatre **. Javon Johnson's play has plenty of meat. That's part of the trouble. A protege of August Wilson's, Mr. Johnson shares his mentor's chatterbox tendencies. He tries to say everything and cram everything into one play. The result, set in a once-vibrant sandwich shop in Anderson, S.C. (the playwright's hometown), in 1988, is stuffed with great gulping speeches, soliloquies, crackling gibes between old friends and a whole lot of chewing the fat. The dramatic tension lies in a clash of generations as youngsters struggle to spread their wings while oldsters try to hold on to what they have. The play also is about long-held secrets, which will shake up everybody's concept of friendship and family when they are revealed. "Hambone" proves entertaining and gripping in parts, but the play has so many plot developments and showdowns that the second act seems like a caffeinated soap opera. The melodrama is leavened by the ensemble acting, so beautifully calibrated that the watching and the listening are just as profound as the dialogue and acting. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Harlem Rose Metrostage ***. If you are looking for a way to celebrate the birthday of poet Langston Hughes or just get out and hear some good music, take in the world premiere of "Harlem Rose, a Love Song to Langston Hughes." It's a musical, conceived and directed by Atlanta-based Thomas W. Jones II, who has won eight Helen Hayes awards in Washington. Appropriately running during Black History Month, it offers a vibrant tribute to the great poet and the world he inhabited during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and early '30s. Yet for all its magic, this musical leaves you wishing it gave more perspective for audience members who have never heard of Mr. Hughes or the Harlem Renaissance. Through March 10. 703/548-9044. Reviewed by Guy Taylor.
Home of the Brave American Century Theater **-. Arthur Laurents' play, the first work in a career that later would produce the books for "Gypsy" and "West Side Story," portrays a shellshocked World War II soldier paralyzed by the twin demons of war and anti-Semitism. The play illustrates the promise of Mr. Laurents' talents and his early limitations. The adroit production can't hurdle the playwright's inconsistent narrative and a lead character whose occasional whining undermines the traumas thrust upon him. The bulk of the narrative, told in flashback, follows a covert mission to map a Pacific island for Allied troops ready to land on its shores. Attempting a small-scale production centered on a reconnaissance mission is the kind of risk independent theaters should not take lightly. The decision pays off with "Brave," and no amount of pat psychological musings can camouflage its noble attempt to revive Mr. Laurents' overlooked play. Through Tuesday at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Marriage Classika Theatre **. "The Marriage," by Russian literary star Nikolai Gogol, contains many funny insights and lines about the timeless, fierce apprehension people have about getting married. However, in the hands of Classika Theatre's eight-member cast and director Yuri Kordonsky, the comedic pacing is so off and the dramatic tension so lacking that one wonders whether the play is a comedy or a tragedy. Through March 10 in the Village at Shirlington. $15-$20. 703/824-6200. 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.

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