Thursday, January 2, 2003

The Last Seder Aaron & Cecil Goldman Theater. Four siblings return home for a last Passover meal and prepare to move their father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, into a nursing home. Opens Wednesday. 800/494-TIXS.
Twelfth Night Folger Shakespeare Library. Shakespeare’s comedy about a love triangle. Opens tomorrow. 202/544-7077.

The Day Room Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company ***. Don DeLillo’s existential farce was a big hit for Woolly Mammoth in 1989, and now the hilarious feast of language and ideas is back, revved up and retooled for 2003 and directed by artistic director Howard Shalwitz. Grover Gardner, Jennifer Mendenhall and Rob Leo Roy return to the Woolly Stage in this signature piece that begins in a hospital room talk about the human condition. Through Jan. 12 at the Kennedy Center’s AFI Theater. 202/393-3939 or 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare Theatre ***1/2. Energetic and funny, with fantastic acting and a set design that transports the audience back to the fun-filled Roaring ‘20s and to F. Scott Fitzgerald land. What better time in which to set this, one of Shakespeare’s lightest comedies? Under Mark Lamos’ direction, the performances are fast-paced and witty. As Beatrice, the radiant Karen Ziemba is commanding, showing an amazing range. As Benedick, funnyman Dan Snook is a master of body language, and he shows the kind of stage confidence his role as a womanizer and jester demands. This excellent production is not to be missed. Through Sunday. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Gabriella Boston.
The Shape of Things Studio Theatre ****. Neil LaBute’s modern take on the Pygmalion parable gives us Evelyn (Amy Redford) as a sexy, punked-out graduate student who picks up Adam (Scott Barrow), a geeky college security guard. Adam flourishes so in Evelyn’s company he transforms himself into a hottie whom people notice, finally, and even want a piece of. And thereby hangs the tale of how contemporary society esteems beauty above all. This play of ideas is brought home through wonderfully deep, searching performances and direction by Will Pomerantz that keeps things moving at a dazzling clip but still leaves time for the truths to sink in. In the second act, Mr. LaBute lets loose a zinger of a plot twist that is so savage you just sit there in stunned silence and watch the horror unfold. It makes “Shape” a cruel wonder, a beautifully made and streamlined morality play with modern sensibilities and age-old questions about art and beauty that will no doubt reshape your thinking about how far we should go for love and acceptance. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.
South Pacific Arena Stage ***. So many songs from this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic have been burned into the collective memory that Arena Stage has to warn the audience before the performance not to sing along. That’s OK, since you won’t want to miss the fine voices and ebullient energy exuded by this production. Artistic Director Molly Smith’s staging is fluid and fetching. Baayork Lee contributes lissome choreography. Richard White’s stage-filling turn as Emile de Becque shows off an imposing physique and a gorgeous matinee-idol singing voice. Kate Baldwin as Nellie Forbush proves a delightful foil, though her vocal inflections could be better. The production is not so exuberantly on fire as it might be, but it’s hard not to like an R&H musical. Through Feb. 2. 202/488-3300. 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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