- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

Endgame Catalyst Theater Company. Four people, trapped in a post-apocalyptic world, search for understanding, meaning and love. Opens Wednesday at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. 800/494-TIXS.
Rent Warner Theatre. Tony Award-winning musical about the lives, loves and challenges of a group of friends in lower Manhattan. Opens Tuesday, runs through Feb. 16. 202/432-SEAT.
The Robber Scena Theatre. Two young lovers discover that one of them must give up something. Tonight only at the Embassy of the Czech Republic. 202/274-9100, ext. 3413.

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 11/2 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" as 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 Feb. 23. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by Eric Felten.
Runaway Home The Studio Theatre *. Playwright Javon Johnson galvanized Studio audiences last year with the musicality and ease of his play "Hambone." With his new work, "Runaway Home," Mr. Johnson tackles the disintegration of family, emotional abuse, abandonment and other powder-keg issues. But tackling is not the same as rigorous exploring, and as a result, "Runaway Home" is a gaseous heap of issues and tragedies thrown onstage and then left to rot. With one exception, none of the scenes get off the ground. They just go on and on, with reams of exposition and wooden, statement-laden dialogue that verges on parody. The pacing is sloppy and a dramatic or comic arc is non-existent, leading to flubbed dialogue and actors stepping on each other's lines. A directorial hand is all but invisible. The top-notch cast is not given enough to work with. The main character, BettyAnn (Rosalyn Coleman) is so crudely drawn you tire of the character's single dimension very quickly. And without a great BettyAnn, there is no play. Through Feb. 16. 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.
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. 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. We've seen enough of the Peter Pan syndrome, thank you very much. Through March 2. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Twelfth Night Folger Shakespeare Library ****. Shakespeare's often-melancholy comedy about mistaken identity, misplaced ardor and mischief takes its name from the final night of Christmas festivities, the Feast of the Epiphany. Celebrated in the Elizabethan era as a festival of misrule, this holiday of music, revels and pranks saturates Shakespeare's play. In Aaron Posner's tune-filled, fresh and sexy new staging we get the jokes, we like the music, and we share in the fun. The enthusiasm of the cast is contagious; a standout performance by Rick Foucheux as Malvolio adds to the delight. If you are looking for a fresh and intoxicating interpretation of "Twelfth Night," look no further. Through Sunday. 202/544-7077. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

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