- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

OPENING

• Polaroid Stories — Studio Theatre Secondstage. Classical mythology and real- life stories are adapted for contemporary times. Opens tonight. 202/332-3300.

• Titus! the Musical? — Washington Theatre Festival. A take-no-prisoners, punk-rock treatment of the Bard’s nastiest play. Opens Wednesday at the Source Theatre, runs through July 26. 202/462-1073.

NOW PLAYING

• All the Great Books — Kennedy Center Terrace Theater — ***1/2. In less than two hours of this infinitely zany remedial literature class, the Reduced Shakespeare Company zips through 83 classics in the Western canon. These masters of compression — the Professor (Austin Tichenor), the Coach (Reed Martin), and the Student Teacher (Matthew Croke) — use props, silly wigs, spit takes and drag to illustrate such classics as “Moby Dick,” “War and Peace” and “Green Eggs and Ham.” All three players exhibit rowdy enthusiasm and inventiveness, whether they are lovingly lampooning “Don Quixote” or “Plato’s Republic.” They appear to have not only actually read the great books, but know their essence and what can be skewered. It’s great fun for students of all ages. Through Aug. 1. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Closer than Ever — MetroStage — ***. This high-energy revue of showstoppers by the contemporary Broadway songwriting duo of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire is a deft production featuring local favorites Tracy Lynn Olivera, Russell Sunday, Eileen Ward and Jamie Zemarel, under the musical direction of Howard Breitbart. MetroStage is a small theater, and the quartet socks these songs — many of them from the hit musical “Baby” — across the footlights as if they are belting them out in the middle of Times Square. The songs were written during the go-go ‘80s and ‘90s and reflect their times. They constitute a bright evening of musical theater about people who lead busy, complicated lives and are unafraid of change. Through Aug. 3. 703/548-9044. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Donna Q — Signature Theatre — **. It’s a double-dip pleasure to have Nancy Robinette performing in Paulette Laufer’s beguiling one-woman show, loosely based on “Don Quixote.” Wisconsin denizen Donna Q is a comfy-bodied, middle-aged woman who, faced with unemployment after doing the same clerical job for more than 20 years, reinvents herself as an adventurer and visionary. Her “possible dream” is to take a frigid dip into Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day as part of the annual Polar Bear Plunge; this mad quest not only shakes her staid foundations, but alters the lives of relatives and friends whose lives she touches. Miss Robinette plays these other characters and more with clarity and affection, and is radiant as Donna Q. The play loses focus in the middle and becomes fuzzy with the various crises of the peripheral characters until Miss Robinette regains control of the piece near the end. Through July 27. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Ghosts — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***1/2. Director Edwin Sherin has slapped Henrik Ibsen’s 1881 masterpiece about lies and retribution clear into 1981 in an attempt to make the play as vigorous and shocking to audiences as it was more than 100 years ago. The updating is not the cold-water jolt to the senses Mr. Sherin anticipated. Instead, the modifications and add-ons have pushed “Ghosts” into the unfortunate realm of melodrama. Even the august Jane Alexander as the wealthy widow Helen Alving in her Shakespeare Theatre debut, cannot elevate this production beyond seeming like something you’d see on the Lifetime cable network. Nor can the rest of the excellent cast save this version of “Ghosts” from being anything but a stifling modern museum piece. Through July 27. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Patience — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — **. Canadian playwright Jason Sherman’s shrapnel-sharp and unyielding play is a tragicomic updating of the Old Testament story of Job. Directed with intensity and probing intelligence by Howard Shalwitz, it features a cast bristling with smarts and savvy. “Patience” presents a moral grappling with which you eagerly engage, as a workaholic communications mogul named Reuben (Mitchell Hebert) loses his position in the company he founded, is thrown out by his neglected wife, Donna (Kimberly Schraf) and finds out that his youngest brother has only hours to live. Can a modern man like Reuben be transformed by his troubles? Mr. Sherman seems to suggest that redemption is possible, depending on whether we see suffering as a curse or an opportunity. The play is a gorgeous spill of words, and there are ample visual delights in Elena Zlotescu’s set and Mark K. Andruss’ coolly ironic lighting design. Through Sunday at the Kennedy Center’s AFI Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Shear Madness — Kennedy Center Theater Lab — ***1/2. 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.

• Talley’s Folly — Theater J — ***1/2. This sublime production of Lanford Wilson’s play is a plump, thumping, heart-shaped declaration of love. In Daniel Conaway’s watercolor-like setting, the fanciful gingerbread boathouse (the “folly” of the title) and riverside dock are rendered in superbly weathered sea-shades. It’s summer in Missouri in the 1940s, with World War II drawing to a close. A band concert in a pavilion across the lake is about to begin as Matt Friedman (Rich Foucheaux), a tightly-coiled, fortyish Jewish accountant from St. Louis, gathers courage to pop the question to the tarnished southern belle Sally Talley (Colleen Delany), a shiksa from a wealthy family who is trapped in her second-class status as the family spinster. Mr. Foucheaux and Miss Delany, under the tender direction of Peg Dentilhorne, play it like a dance. Together, they are like Astaire and Rogers, and the play is a glimpse of hearts and flowers in the midst of summer. Through Sunday at the DC Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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