- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

OPENING
The Anastasia Trials in the Court of the Women Venus Theatre Company. An audience-interactive play that explores the last czar of Russia's still-debated life. Opens tomorrow at the District of Columbia Arts Center. 202/462-7833.
As You Like It The Royal Shakespeare Company. The Bard's classic. Opens Tuesday at Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. 202/467-4600.
On the Bedpost Overnight District of Columbia Arts Center. Jon Spelman explores the lifecycles of human existence in this autobiographical one-man show. Opens tonight. 202/462-7833.

NOW PLAYING
Elizabeth the Queen Folger Theatre ***. Maxwell Anderson's 1930 tale of the aging Queen Elizabeth (Michael Learned) and her much younger lover, the Earl of Essex (Martin Kildaire), is a scarlet-souled, rip-snorting melodrama that's bodice-ripping fun. Mr. Kildaire's Lord Essex is wily and waggish, high-spirited and hotheaded, obsessed with war on Spain, Flanders and Ireland and bent on persuading the queen that the peace and prosperity she wants is not in England's interest. Miss Learned as the queen, sharp-tongued and imperious in the scenes with her tedious court, blossoms in his presence. In a splendidly full-bodied performance, she becomes a woman, however briefly. But this is more than just a May-December love story. Ultimately, it is about conflicts between being a lover or a ruler and between a monarch intent on peace and a beloved courtier bent on martial glory. Elizabeth must choose, and it's refreshing to observe characters wrestling with these old-fashioned dilemmas. Through May 4. 202/544-7077. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Follies Signature Theatre **1/2. Stephen Sondheim's 1971 rue-tinged musical about self-deception and the roads not taken is set in a dilapidated theater the former home of the glittering Weismann Follies during the first and only reunion of the once-glittering showgirls, now sagging, who used to prance nightly on the stage there. "Follies" is Mr. Sondheim's deepest and most lovely work. It's tricky to do, brassy and fragile at once, with a big cast, huge production numbers and a deeply emotional story at the center. Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has brought such insight and power to the other Sondheim musicals, you assume this would be another triumph. But the truth is, you emerge from the Signature production disappointed with what happens onstage. Things look cramped, the singing and production numbers have a community-theater feel, and the cast does not seem up to the show emotionally. It is a bummer to come down so hard on "Follies," but the delicate tension between the dream world conjured by the old-style production numbers and the deceptive dreams or follies of the principals must be maintained for the show to work on a plane more profound than a pastiche of musical style. Through June 1. 800/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
I Worry Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company ***. You think you're fretful and edgy? Hah. You're a piker compared to Sandra Tsing Loh. Her one-woman show weaves haute couture out of frayed nerves. And as Miss Loh tabulates and expounds on her worries, the pileup of concerns petty and immense the war, terrorist attacks, Osama bin Laden, the daily tsunami of e-mail, her fellow Californians, organic food, Michael Jackson becomes screamingly funny. Miss Loh has the sugar-rush energy of a cartoon character, and her goofy faces and comically akimbo arm and leg gestures keep "I Worry" from sinking into a morass of guilt and stasis. Being stuck in a dark room with a narcissist who won't stop yammering for 1 hours may not sound like much fun but trust me on this. Through Sunday at the Kennedy Center AFI Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
The Play About the Baby Studio Theatre ***. A dapper, devastating production under the direction of Joy Zinoman, Edward Albee's play gives us a mysterious older Man (Philip Goodwin) and Woman (Nancy Robinette) who cheerfully begrudge a Girl (Kosha Engler) and Boy (Matt Stinton) everything their youth, their happiness, their love, their new baby, even their grip on reality. The production is not for the prudish: It contains male and female nudity, frank language and simulated intercourse as the Girl and Boy make love nonstop. But if your life is going to be ripped apart by two postmodern demons, you can't find more entertaining goblins than Mr. Goodwin and Miss Robinette. Droll, witty and playful, they dress well, have the bubbly bonhomie of the most scintillating cocktail party guest, and play with your mind with such epicurean delicacy it is like being eaten alive by escargot. Mr. Albee seems to take great pleasure not only in crafting arch, crystalline dialogue, but in having both the actors and the audience in the same unsteady emotional state at the end. You want to both curse and congratulate him for leaving you in such a frame of mind. Through May 18. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Richard III The Shakespeare Theatre ****. There is so much that is Jacobean and excessive about Shakespeare's "Richard III" that you can't take it too seriously or it would be unbearable to watch. In director Gale Edwards' audacious and racing production, it becomes a horror movie, set in an a hospital waiting room so institutional and severe it seems like an HMO run by Satan. In this setting, Wallace Acton as Richard is reptilian and seductive, luxuriating in the role and inviting us all to have as much evil fun as he appears to be having onstage. You almost find yourself cheering on the murders that occur with video-game regularity and there are Grand Guignol thrills galore in Miss Edwards' production, which emphasizes the chills and gore over poetry and tragedy. She also keeps things going at a flashing pace, getting you so caught up in Richard's villainous charm and his destructive course that the 90-minute first act just flies by. Of course, there is no play without a great Richard, and Mr. Acton creates a portrait of a psychopath in which we can see ourselves and smile. Through May 18. 202/547-1122. 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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