- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

OPENING
The Taste of Fire Charter Theatre. Two families are ripped apart by the actions of a drunk driver. 8 p.m. Opens Wednesday. at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. 202/333-7009, ext. 3.

NOW PLAYING
Collected Stories Olney Theatre Center for the Arts ***. Donald Margulies' terrifically thought-provoking play explores the right to privacy and to keep a secret in our talk-show world. Halo Wines plays a venerated fiction writer who takes a young female writer (Carolyn Pasquantonio) under her wing and eventually lets down her guard, telling the younger woman of her affair years ago with the celebrated poet Delmore Schwartz. The protege, spurred by ambition, takes the confidence and makes a book of it. Miss Wines' evocation of hurt, loss and rage is magnificent as she devolves into something like a cornered animal. Miss Pasquantonio is masterful in a canny performance that projects a person at once so smart and so unaware. Director Jim Petosa capitalizes on the intimacy of the space, as well as the intimacy of this friendship and betrayal. Through May 19. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Hamlet Stanislavsky Theater Studio ***1/2. A "Hamlet" without words might seem like a meal without food, but if you're skeptical, see this production by the Synetic Theater, a new project of the Stanislavsky Theater begun by Stanislavsky co-artistic director Paata Tsikurishvili and his wife, choreographer and pantomimist Irina Tsikurishvili. The play contains a lot of stylized movement and dance, but it isn't simply "re-imagined" as an interpretive dance number, nor is it simply a play without words. Director Tsikurishvili, who also plays Hamlet, cooperates with the script and shows respect for the play's integrity. Miss Tsikurishvili makes an ethereal Ophelia, and Catherine Gasta is suitably repulsive as Hamlet's conspiring mother, Queen Gertrude. As the Player Queen and the Courtier, Irina Koval distinguishes herself, in one instance performing a comic striptease without removing any of her clothes. The black costumes and the black set, both by Georgi Alexi-Meskhishvili, contribute to the sense of doom and darkness. The music, taken from works by Georgian composer Giya Kancheli, contributes to a weirdly compelling effect. Synetic Theater has tremendous promise if its future plays are anything like this one. Through May 26 at Church Street Theater. 202/265-3748. Reviewed by Eric M. Johnson.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch Signature Theatre ****. Think you couldn't have anything in common with a drag queen with a spectacularly unsuccessful sex-change operation? Think again. Once one gets beyond the blond wigs and glitter makeup, the punk posturing and the platform boots, this is a story about love. Although there are elements of drag, "Hedwig" has more genuine emotions than the outrageousness of camp. Rick Hammerly is tremendous as Hedwig. He emerges first as a drama queen and as entertaining as all get-out, until he begins to reveal sides of himself as he strips off his costumes and gets to the real Hedwig, who turns out to be complete, after all. Mr. Hammerly has an authentic rock voice, and he handles the androgyny of Hedwig's character with style and flash. He is backed up ably by the Angry Inch band, which performs the rocking score that encompasses heavy metal, punk, country-rock, ballads and the occasional torch song. Through May 12. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Hot Mikado Ford's Theatre ****. Ford's Theatre hits the jackpot with this adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's classic musical. The jazz score (inspired by Duke Ellington and other jazz greats) swings, the funny lines crackle, the singing soars, and the acting and dancing are brilliant. The 20-member cast is tight in all of their 22 dance and song numbers. The land of Titi-Pu, the fairy-tale Japanese-inspired town where the story unfolds, is expertly created by stage designer Daniel Proett. Director and choreographer David Bell has created a slammin' production, with lots of goodies for both eye and ear. Through June 16. 703/218-6500 tickets; 202/347-4833 information. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.
Mamma Mia National Theatre **. The musical "Mamma Mia," inspired by songs from the 1970s Swedish pop phenomenon ABBA, is one of those cute, screamingly bright shows, similar to "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" in its mishmash of styles and high-octane zestiness. But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The show takes place in the now on a mythical Greek island as a fiercely independent single mother, a free spirit from the 1970s, prepares for the wedding of her daughter. The daughter, obsessed with finding out who her father is, steals her mother's diary and draws from it three prospects, whom she then invites to the wedding. Mirth and mayhem ensue. You must have a sweet tooth for disco and inane lyrics in order to fully appreciate "Mamma Mia." Through June 8. 800/477-7400. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Polk County Arena Stage ***. Zora Neale Hurston's "Polk County" is a sassy and dizzyingly high-spirited evening of music and mythic-sized characters. Set in a sawmill camp in Florida in the 1930s, the play details the daily dramas and triumphs of a close-knit community of black workers, where people work hard, play hard and love hard. The heated atmosphere is perfect for Miss Hurston's Day-Glo language. The music is a fine collection of traditional Southern folk and blues songs, church music, rags and reels. Miss Hurston's sprawling, virtually structure-free style is fine for a while, but at nearly three hours, the play meanders and then meanders some more. But the actors seem to relish their roles, and the language and characters are full-bloomed. Through May 12. 202/488-4377. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Romeo and Juliet The Shakespeare Theatre ***. The Shakespeare Theatre's production is as fresh and unmannered as youth itself, although the passion doesn't erupt as violently as it should. Young British director Rachel Kavanaugh, who says she believes in revealing "text-led Shakespeare," commendably plays it straight, lets the plot unfold and the actors act. Although this production isn't perfect, it has a beautiful, endearing simplicity that can only be attributed to Ms. Kavanaugh's living out her credo. Through May 19. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Eric M. Johnson.
Shakespeare, Moses and Joe Papp Round House Theatre ***. Sharp and entertaining, a slice of theatrical legend that is both tart and satisfying: That is Ernie Joselovitz's story of a clash of egos that shook New York City in the late 1950s, when the brash and headline-grabbing theater impresario Joe Papp (John Lescault) demanded that Central Park's Great Lawn be opened for free Shakespeare and Robert Moses (Gerry Bamman), the father protector of New York City's bridges, tunnels and parks, took it as an invasion of his playground. Mr. Joselovitz juxtaposes two men very different yet very similar one the wealthy, old-school German Jew, the other the gate-crashing, low-born child of newer immigrants from Eastern Europe, both of them imbued with a megalomaniacal passion that obliterated everything in its wake. This makes for some outstanding fireworks between the two men, who embody the lifelong struggle between art and commerce. With its rat-a-tat dialogue and snappy patter, the play has a jazzy, snappy air that reflects the urban energy of New York in the late 1950s. You would not want to hang out with the men in this play, but it is nasty fun to spend a couple of hours watching their gears spin. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100. 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. Continues indefinitely. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Nelson Pressley.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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