- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

All the World Washington Stage Guild. Ferenc Molnar's backstage peek at the trials and tribulations of European theater in the early 20th century. Opens tonight at Arena Stage. 240/582-0050.
The Cherry Orchard Round House Theatre. Chekhov's tale of an upper-class family and its servants facing the loss of the family estate in late 19th-century Russia. Opens Wednesday. 240/644-1100.
Faith Healer Howard Community College Rep Stage. A spiritual showman, his mistress and their business manager travel the back roads of Ireland in a tale told through traditional Irish storytelling. Opens tomorrow. 410/772-4900.
The Heiress The Little Theatre of Alexandria. A shy, unmarried woman must choose between losing her inheritance and marrying the man of her dreams. Opens tomorrow. 703/683-0496.
Host and Guest Synetic Theater. A Muslim couple is torn between their values and their community when they take an enemy soldier into their home. Opens tonight at at Stanislavsky Theater Studio. 202/265-3748.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Arena Stage. An ambitious trumpet player schemes against Ma Rainey, "the mother of the blues," during the boom of the 1920s Chicago jazz scene. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.
Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare Theatre. Two sets of couples are pushed together and pulled apart in Shakespeare's classic comedy. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.
The Shape of Things Studio Theatre. An art student sets about to change a museum guard who falls in love with her in Neil Labute's dark comedy. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

Driving Miss Daisy Olney Theatre Center ***. Alfred Uhry's tender comedy about 25 years of change in the South takes us on a comfortable ride through civil rights, racism, aging and anti-Jewish sentiment. It deals with a slowly dawning friendship between a black chauffeur and the vastly opinionated Jewish matron he ferries about. Yet there is nothing mawkish or Hallmark-card-ish about the play. Thomas W. Jones II's production is brisk and no-nonsense. The players make a dream cast. Halo Wines shines as Miss Daisy, no compliant old lady. Keith N. Johnson brings great dignity and warmth to driver Hoke Coleburn, whom he plays as an equal to Miss Daisy, a man of depth and experience. This is your father's Oldsmobile solid, dependable and roomy. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Man of La Mancha National Theatre ***. Director Jonathan Kent has a treasure in his limber restaging of this play with Brian Stokes Mitchell in the title role of Cervantes' Don Quixote. It is a role Mr. Mitchell seems born to play. His performance of the song "The Impossible Dream" is a shivers-inducing moment in a production filled with gorgeous moments. The set by Paul Brown (aided by Paul Gallo's chiaroscuro lighting) is jaw-dropping. The cast is up to every challenge: As Sancho Panza, Ernie Sabella is the ideal foil to Quixote's idealism. As the tough cookie Aldonza, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is scarily convincing. The chorus and dancers cavort nimbly around the set. Numerous sound-projection problems cropped up opening night, but once the technical glitches are sorted out, "La Mancha" ought to hit its stride. Through Nov. 10. 800/447-7400. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
The Misanthrope Arena Stage **. There are many fine aspects to this production of Moliere's pointed satire about artifice vs. sincerity in 17th-century Paris. It is a shame the overall feeling is of flatness. The pace lurches and stalls, and when something finally does get going, it is over before you know it. Moliere's message that the world is a hypocritical and truth-allergic place is as timely as ever; you only wish that the messenger had more gusto. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Privates on Parade Studio Theatre ***1/2. This 1977 musical play by Britain's Peter Nichols (with music by Dennis King) is a grand way to start the theater season. Dashingly directed by Joy Zinoman, who handles it with silliness and sophistication, it combines the broad humor of English music halls and pantomimes with carefully wrought commentary on racism, miscegenation, homosexuality and homophobia and the casual cruelties of wartime. The play is based on Mr. Nichols' experiences as a member of a song-and-dance touring unit similar to the USO dispatched to Southeast Asia in 1948 to cheer up British troops mired in a Malaysian guerrilla war. The unit is led by Terri Dennis, a flamboyant queen, played by Floyd King, that most supple of clowns and there is no more joyous sign that the seasons are changing than the sight of Floyd King in a dress. If every show this season is as energetic and inspired as "Privates on Parade," we needn't concern ourselves with the inevitable letdown after this summer's Sondheim Celebration. Through Nov. 10. 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.

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