- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

OPENING

• Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris — Source Theatre. Musical with the cabaret songs of the Belgian artist, exploring love, loss, death and war. Tonight through Saturday. Part of the Washington Theatre Festival. 202/462-1073.

• Love in Exile — Hyacinth Theatre. A love affair threatens the cohesion of a small group of Bolsheviks before the Russian revolution. Opens Saturday at the Warehouse Theater. 202/783-3933.

• Master and Margarita — Rorschach Theatre. It is springtime in Moscow and the devil has come to stage his annual ball and wreak havoc on a city that believes in neither heaven nor hell. Opens Saturday at Calvary Methodist Church. 703/715-6707.

• Silent Heroes — Source Theatre. Six wives of Marine aviators gather in a military base stand-by room after hearing that one of the base’s jet fighters has crashed. Sunday through Tuesday. Part of the Washington Theatre Festival. 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 exhibit rowdy enthusiasm and inventiveness, whether they are lovingly lampooning “Don Quixote” or “Plato’s Republic.” It’s great fun for students of all ages. Through Saturday. 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. The cast 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. They make for a bright evening of musical theater about people who lead busy, complicated lives and are unafraid of change. Through Sunday. 703/548-9044. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Crave — Potomac Theatre Project — ***. British playwright Sarah Kane committed suicide in 1999 at 28, and this play is so drunken with death — death as the ultimate desire, and a craving for it that is nearly sexual — that you wonder if it is a play or a multivoiced suicide note. It’s an exploration of four fragmented, overlapping voices in the playwright’s head, all brought to distinct life by the cast. Minimal and elliptical, “Crave” moves like a fugue or a looped rant about the horror of being alive. It will seem all too familiar to anyone who has ever suffered from chronic depression. Through Aug. 10 in repertory with “Piaf” and “No Man’s Land” at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Dear World — American Century Theater — ***. Composer Jerry Herman’s delicately fantastic adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s satiric farce, “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” premiered in 1969. Conceived as an intimate chamber musical, it became an overproduced train wreck that was stomped by the critics and slipped into obscurity. Now, American Century is using the original book, which emphasizes the simple magic of Mr. Giraudoux’s tale. Mr. Herman’s score is lilting and romantic. As the Countess Aurelia, the town’s beloved eccentric who saves Paris from ruthless industrialists, the veteran performer Ilona Dulaski is naturally elegant and not so much crazy as someone who chooses her own reality. Unfortunately, the cast ranges from excellent to embarrassingly amateurish, and these extremes throw off the show’s gentle rhythm. Still, this is a neglected treasure of a musical. Through Aug. 9 at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business — Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts Imagination Stage — ***1/2. Joan Cushing, known to Washington audiences as Mrs. Foggybottom, wrote the music, lyrics and the book for this delightful, Crayola-bright musical for children and any adult who remembers what it was like to be a loud, proud kindergartener. It’s the story of Junie B. (Sherri Edelen), a defiant 6-year-old who faces the a daunting challenge, the impending arrival of a new baby brother or sister. Miss Edelen’s Broadway-caliber voice is put to good use in the show’s brisk score. She makes a complete and winning transformation into the bossy Junie B. She and the talented cast make this a bouncy and energetic celebration of what it’s like to be a child. Through Aug. 17. 301/280-1651. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Monster — Olney Theatre — ***. For a Gothic good time, you can’t do better than Neal Bell’s harrowing, freakish “Monster,” a free-form adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein.” Directed with audacity by Jim Petosa, it’s a play of extremes and deep-purple emotions, both disturbingly erotic and almost absurdly romantic. At the same time, its tone is so swampy and delirious it would put a Tales of the Crypt comic book to shame. The cast is top-notch and Christopher Lane is extraordinary as the innocent, bewildered Creature. Through Aug. 10. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• No Man’s Land — Potomac Theatre Project — ***. The theme of this year’s Potomac Theatre Project (the strongest and most vital edition of the annual theater festival yet) is the interrelationship of creativity, madness and self-destruction, a theme plumbed to the remote inner hollows of the soul in Harold Pinter’s bleak, funny play, whose silken creepiness comes from its depiction of madness and creativity in life’s twilight years. It becomes a dolorous duet between its two main characters, Spooner (Alan Wade) and Hirst (Richard Pilcher), who just might be one man — Hirst, examining his life choices amid a rising current of uncertainty. Both attack Mr. Pinter’s obtuse dialogue with precision and appetite. They take the play beyond a story about artists and writers and the compromises they make. It becomes about being human, having that null space deep inside you that yearns to be filled. Through Aug. 10 in repertory with “Piaf” and “Crave” at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Piaf — Potomac Theatre Project — ***1/2. Edith Piaf, the transcendent French singer from the 1930s to the 1960s, gave herself body and soul to her audiences and in private life gorged on men, liquor, drugs and money in a way that belied her frail image. Born in a gutter and raised in a brothel, she stayed loyal to those roots throughout a drama-crammed life, and that gives Pam Gems’ lusty play its earthy, good-natured energy. Helen Hedman, as Piaf, bears an eerie vocal and physical resemblance to the singer. Her Piaf is a force of nature that is all rawness and need. There is boozing, drug-taking, prostitution and murder aplenty in “Piaf,” but Miss Gems’ play has an obstinately cheerful air, a lively recklessness and light that captures Miss Piaf’s spirit. Through Aug. 10 in repertory with “Crave” and “No Man’s Land” at the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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