- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 21, 2002

OPENING

• A Christmas Carol Ford's Theatre. Dickens' timeless tale about the true spirit of Christmas. Opens tomorrow. 202/347-4833.

• Dingleberries Cherry Red Productions. World premiere of 15 miniplays, all set in a bathroom. Opens tonight at Warehouse Theater Next Door. 202/298-9077.

• Les Miserables National Theatre. Now-classic musical based on the Victor Hugo novel that chronicles the lives of a young woman and her fugitive guardian during the French Revolution. Opens Wednesday. 202/628-6161.

• Naked Boys Singing Source Theatre. The D.C. premiere of the show, with plenty to hear and see, featuring the new song "Hey, Mr. Ashcroft." Opens tonight. 202/319-7227.

• A Tuna Christmas Warner Theatre. Comics Joe Sears and Jaston Williams play 22 townspeople in Tuna, Texas, a town of big hair and conservative politics. Opens Tuesday. 202/783-4000.


NOW PLAYING

• Death and the Maiden Theater J ***. This ball of anxiety raises an all-important question: Does vengeance give closure? A satisfying answer never is given maybe because there is none. During the two-hour play, however, philosophical and emotional meanderings about forgiveness versus retribution give us plenty ponder even the next day. Paulina Escobar, played skillfully by Paula Gruskiewicz, was tortured many years ago by a repressive regime in an unnamed South American nation. By an unbelievable coincidence, she captures her torturer. What will she do with this opportunity will she avenge or turn the other cheek? Through Dec. 1. 202/777-3229. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.

• Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Arena Stage ***1/2. This production, directed with deep musicality by Tazewell Thompson, may be the most satisfying and affecting rendition to date of August Wilson's play about a 1920s black blues singer and a middle-of-the-night recording session. Everything works on all cylinders, like a top-notch jazz group playing as if the musicians' fingers and lips were on fire. The ensemble cast gives and takes, indulging in solos and improvisations from time to time, operating like virtuoso musicians more intent on sending the piece into the heavens than standing out individually. What is so thrilling about this production is how all the musicality of Mr. Wilson's words is mined so utterly. You feel as if the medium has been transcended and what is being performed is not just words and notes, but something that sounds and feels like angel wings beating against your chest. Through Dec. 29. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare Theatre ***1/2. Energetic and funny, with fantastic acting and a set design that transports the audience back to the fun-filled Roaring '20s and F. Scott Fitzgerald land. What better time in which to set this, one of Shakespeare's lightest comedies? Under Mark Lamos' direction, the performances are fast-paced and witty. As Beatrice, the radiant Karen Ziemba is commanding, showing an amazing range. As Benedick, funnyman Dan Snook is a master of body language, and he shows the kind of stage confidence his role as a womanizer and jester demands. This excellent production is not to be missed. Through Jan. 5. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.

• The Shape of Things Studio Theatre ****. Neil LaBute's modern take on the Pygmalion parable gives us Evelyn (Holly Twyford) as a sexy, punked-out graduate student who picks up Adam (Scott Barrow), a geeky college security guard. Adam flourishes so in Evelyn's company that he transforms himself into a hottie whom people notice, finally; they even want a piece of him. Thereby hangs the tale of how contemporary society esteems beauty above all. This play of ideas is brought home in wonderfully deep, searching performances and direction by Will Pomerantz that keeps things moving at a dazzling clip but still leaves time for the truths to sink in. In the second act, Mr. LaBute lets loose a zinger of a plot twist that is so savage you just sit there in stunned silence and watch the horror unfold. It makes "Shape" a cruel wonder, a beautifully made and streamlined morality play with modern sensibilities and age-old questions about art and beauty that no doubt will reshape your thinking about how far we should go for love and acceptance. Through Dec. 15. 202/332-3300. 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. File review by Nelson Pressley.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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