- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

OPENING

• Blazing Red Gunston Arts Center Theater Two. An age-old story about marriage and why men and women do it. Part of the Sixth International Festival of Hispanic Theater. Tomorrow and Saturday. 202/882-6227.

• Book of Days Arena Stage. Questions of truth and fidelity arise around a town's most prominent residents when one of their own dies in Lanford Wilson's most recent play. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

• Dames at Sea Olney Theatre. Love hits the high seas when a fresh-faced young woman meets a sailor from her hometown. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

• Intimate Apparel The Head Theater. A young lingerie maker in lower Manhattan at the turn of the century questions the identity of her loving male pen pal. Opens tomorrow at CenterStage. 410/332-4240.

• Jump/Cut Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. The dangerous consequences that result when a couple decides to make a "reality film" about their manic-depressive friend. Opens Monday at the Goldman Theater, DC Jewish Community Center. 202/393-3939.

• Last Minute Theatre du Jour. Bound and gagged, a young woman faces her own reality via interaction, interrogation and hope. Opens tonight at the D.C. Arts Center. 202/328-7099.

• Sidney Bechet Killed a Man Metrostage. A haunting tale inspired by the late, legendary jazz clarinetist. Opens Wednesday. 703/548-9044.

• Wedding Dance African Continuum Theatre Company. A gritty urban fairy tale about a street-smart girl and the leader of a gang. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Opens tonight at the Kennedy Center AFI Theatre. 202/467-4600.

• When Pigs Fly Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre. Howard Crabtree defies his high school guidance counselor and manages to "make it" in theater in this musical. Opens Saturday. 202/432-SEAT.


NOW PLAYING

• George Gershwin Alone Ford's Theatre ***. Who was George Gershwin a gifted popular tunesmith or longhair composer? This is the question Hershey Felder asks, and strives to answer, in his charming one-man show. For 1½ hours, Mr. Felder looks like Gershwin, talks like Gershwin, plays piano like Gershwin and (with appropriate self-deprecation) sings like Gershwin. Mr. Felder brings an ingratiating breeziness and intimacy to the role. The issue of the relationship between Gershwin and his music and blacks and their music nags throughout the evening, because Mr. Felder evades it. It would have been illuminating to learn what Gershwin thought about criticism from black activists and intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois, who derided his folk-opera "Porgy and Bess" for stereotyping blacks as gamblers and dope fiends. But Mr. Felder's performance offers a most remarkable demonstration of the place the composer's songs still have in our lives. Through Sunday. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by Eric Felten.

• 110 in the Shade Signature Theatre ***1/2. Director Eric Schaeffer has revived and revitalized this musical version of N. Richard Nash's 1954 play "The Rainmaker." When it premiered in 1963, this musical was sunk in part by a bloated production featuring a huge cast, numerous set changes and gaudy costumes. Mr. Schaeffer, with composer Harvey Schmidt and lyricist Tom Jones, has slashed the cast, simplified the orchestra and orchestrations (with the help of Jonathan Tunick) and minimized the scenery. The result marred only by schmaltzy, creaky choreography is a lean, melodic, emotionally charged paean to heartland America and small-town values that refuses to diminish its rural characters by sentimentalizing them. Through March 2. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• The Pavilion Round House Theatre ***. This haunting work about time and memory, and the murky tricks both play on our minds, takes place at a high school reunion in a fictional Minnesota town; the setting is an old dance pavilion, set to be razed at midnight to make way for a concrete amphitheater. The focus is a couple who haven't laid eyes on each other in 20 years and as the two riffle through the detritus of their past, you are caught between the romantic dream that maybe they are destined to be together and the reality that time has been their wings and their jailer. Playwright Craig Wright is agile at combining simple life dramas with soaring, overarching meditations on science and metaphysics. This is not your typical, cozily emotional reunion play, and it's given a passionate rendering under the direction of Jerry Whiddon. Through March 1. 240/644-1099. 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.

• The Silent Woman The Shakespeare Theatre ***1/2. The spirit of the whoopee cushion, joy buzzer and squirting flower rules in artistic director Michael Kahn's production of Ben Jonson's elaborate 1610 farce. It's raucous and raunchy, its humor permeated with double entendres, sexual innuendo, and frank boudoir talk. And it's so much fun to look at that you could forget there is a plot. The plot is there, yet it's a mere pretext for comeuppances of all stripes. Practically everyone in the play is duped. This gives the production a feeling of good-natured joy, as all are the butt of a joke at some point or another, and every character is shown up to be either vain, a fool, or a bit of both. Mr. Kahn keeps his sights squarely on the bedroom, barroom and bathroom, refusing to be distracted by more elevated concerns. His purpose, after all, is not high art, but low comedy. To achieve that, Mr. Kahn has assembled a cast of fine comedic actors and just let them rip, and they ham it up without shame. "The Silent Woman" has rarely been staged in the past 100 years and never in America. It was a long wait, but Jonson's bawdy, witty sendup of snobs and slobs was worth it. Through March 9. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Theophilus North Arena Stage **. Arena turns the clock back with its congenial new adaptation by Matthew Burnett of Thornton Wilder's 1973 novel. Written two years before Mr. Wilder's death, the novel is a wonderfully detailed account of a young man set loose in 1920s Newport, R.I., after ditching his respectable job as a schoolteacher. Theophilus, played with sunny buoyancy by Matthew Floyd Miller in Mr. Burnett's adaptation, has much in common with George Bailey, the protagonist in Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life." But "Theophilus North" is leisurely episodic, and nothing really happens. It's pretty enough, and it floats by like a dandelion burr on a river. But have you ever watched a dandelion burr float down a river for two hours? We see so little of Theophilus' interior struggles with the challenges of entering adulthood that we care little for him. He seems like just another young American male who is in no hurry to grow up. And we've seen enough of the Peter Pan syndrome, thank you very much. Through March 2. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STAR


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