- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

OPENING

• Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush — Interact Theatre Company. Christmas spirit in a festive London pub atmosphere. Opens tonight at the Arena Stage Old Vat Room. 703/760-9863.

• Rum and Vodka — Scena Theatre. Follow one man’s wild ride through Dublin in this comedic one-man show written by Conor McPherson. Opens Wednesday at the Warehouse Next Door. 703/684-7990.

NOW PLAYING

• Camelot — Arena Stage — ***1/2. Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith clearly has an affinity for Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s majestic 1960 musical based on T.H. White’s book “The Once and Future King,” about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. She has staged one of the most resonant and poignant “Camelots” ever seen, not only revitalizing this tuneful warhorse, but also re-inventing the show for modern sensibilities. Kate Suber as Guenevere combines killer pipes with a feisty acting style; Steven Skybell makes a vigorous and thoughtful Arthur. Kate Edmunds’ set evokes a world where magic and warfare mingle. This mystical-rough world is reflected in Paul Tazewell’s costumes, which show a society that is both rich and barbaric. This production reminds us of the power of myth to move and inspire, to awaken in us the nobility that breathes in our hearts. Through Jan. 4. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — Signature Theatre — ***1/2. If your brand of humor tends to be of the baggy toga variety, then Signature’s “Forum” is right up your agora. Under the burlesque-brassy direction of Gary Griffin, the 1962 Stephen Sondheim musical is rousing and rowdy and staged and performed with a comedic sense as warm as the Etruscan sun. The musical centers on Pseudolus, a Roman slave who wants freedom in the worst way. And comic master Floyd King plays the wily slave with cheek and style. The humor is bawdy and sexual, but this is low-brow musical comedy at its most irrepressible. “Forum” may seem like a crude trifle, but the antics are done with the smarts and style that raise schtick to the level of art. Through Dec. 14. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Heartbreak House — Round House Theatre — **. George Bernard Shaw’s play, written in 1920, is an arsenic-dipped diatribe against isolationist aristocrats, empty-souled capitalists and women who cling to the 19th-century notion that they need to marry “up” in order to survive. The “heartbreak house” of the title refers to a manor house in the English countryside populated by a family of bohemians and their bewildered guests. The family remains dreamy and removed while bombs fall and the outside world threatens to topple their carefully constructed ivory tower. They do nothing to stop the war. Yet although this “Heartbreak House” is endowed with an enviable cast, a posh baronial set by James Kronzer, and the whip-smart Nick Olcott as director, taking it in is like watching very expensive paint dry. The actors never transcend type, so we tire of them rather quickly. You emerge feeling you have spent nearly three hours with some perfectly respectable, rather tedious company. Through Dec. 14. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Life of Galileo — Studio Theatre — ***. Ted van Griethuysen brings to rugged, flawed life the brilliant 17th-century scientist Galileo in this production of Bertolt Brecht’s play, newly and bracingly translated by playwright David Hare. And the portrait of Galileo — an intellect who can plot the heavens, but a man oblivious to the intentions of the people surrounding him — is what gives the play mercy and depth. Director David Salter keeps each character in perpetual, swirling orbit around him, giving the production a swift, celestial rhythm. Helen Q. Huang’s burnished-gold and hammered-copper set features interlocking circles and spheres that give the sensation of being inside a model of the solar system. The large cast does an admirable job, fleshing out their characters so they are more than pawns in Galileo’s personal cosmos. This is a play of ideas, but what ultimately impresses is how expertly it engages the intellect without sacrificing the heart. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Midsummer Night’s Dream — The Shakespeare Theatre — ****. Reconceptualized as a kind of enchanted modernism, director Mark Lamos’ update of this most popular of Shakespeare’s plays is wildly witty, and works in ways that such improvements rarely do. Mr. Lamos, along with set designer Leiko Fuseya and costume designer Constance Hoffman, have created a misty otherworld where winged and sooty modernist fairies tumble and turn in the air, swimming through the mists of time, appropriately to the music of Saint-Saens’ shimmering “Fish” passage from “Carnival of the Animals.” Meanwhile, Oberon and his disgruntled queen Titania materialize as towering giants, taking on more human forms as they weave their wondrous spells. Children love the play for its nonsense and will not be damaged in the slightest by the small sprinkling of the Bard’s bawdy japes. Through Jan. 4. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Miss Nelson Has a Field Day — Imagination Stage — **. Joan Cushing turned a picture book by Harry Allard and James Marshall into a joyous and award-winning 2002 musical, “Miss Nelson is Missing,” about a beloved teacher at Smedley Elementary School. Miss Cushing has returned to adapt “Miss Nelson Has a Field Day,” and while the show does have its dynamic moments, it lacks the bounce and fun of the first musical. “Field Day” never quite gets off the ground and has problems sustaining a peppy pace that will keep the youngsters riveted. Through Jan. 11. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Red Herring — Everyman Theatre — ***1/2. Playwright Michael Hollinger’s sendup of the hard-boiled detectives of film noir and pulp fiction gets a bang-up production at Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre under the daft and deft direction of John Vreeke. The story, set in 1952 Boston at the height of the McCarthy hearings, is about murder, espionage and the red scare. It’s told through three disparate but equally wacky couples who converge one night on a foggy pier in Boston. A daffy mood is set by vintage radio jingles, while the set is dominated by an enormous retro billboard hawking Ogilvy Canned Herring. The cast of six plays 18 madcap characters, with 14 scene changes in the breakneck first act alone. Mr. Hollinger furnishes the cast with a stream of swift, snappy patter, and the actors return the favor, rising to helium-giddy heights. It just proves that whether you’re a flatfoot or a commie, all you really need is love. Through Dec. 14. 410/752-2208. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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