- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003


• Beauty and the Beast — National Theatre. The Broadway smash hit version of Disney’s movie. Opens Wednesday. Tickets 800/447-7400. Information 202/628-6161.

• Come Fly(e) with Me! — Interact Theatre Company. Songs, sketches and cabaret performances celebrating the month of May. Opens Thursday at Arena Stage Old Vat Theater, 1101 6th St. SW. $30-$35. 703/760-9863.

• Flying Lessons — George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Charts a cycle of reactions to September 11 from a woman’s viewpoint. Opens Saturday. 703/739-9338.

• It’s a Hardbop Life — Howard University Aldridge Theater. A jazz musical about a young man who, in a dream, comes to grip with his attitudes towards women, his talent and the world. Opens Wednesday. 202/806-7194.

• The Rainmaker — The Pearlstone Theater. A charismatic out-of-towner promises to bring rain to a drought-suffering town and love to a plain girl’s heart. Opens tomorrow at CenterStage. 410/332-0033.


• An American Daughter — Arena Stage — ***1/2. Wendy Wasserstein’s 1997 play about political ambitions and the myth that women can “have it all” was wasted on Broadway. The story of what happens when the connected, wealthy and thin Lyssa Dent Hughes (Johanna Day) is nominated for surgeon general belongs inside the Beltway. Molly Smith directs as if staging an elegant three-ring circus, and the show snaps like Mary Matalin and James Carville, combining the sniping style of “The McLaughlin Group” with a sincere inquiry into the reluctance of baby boomer women to cede their hard-won power to the younger generation. Through June 1. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• As You Like It — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — **. The heralded collaboration between the Kennedy Center and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) gets off to a funereal start with this remote, muted production of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy. You have to admire the RSC for trying a novel, ironic approach to one of Shakespeare’s most florid and love-saturated comedies, but the play should have an overall air of lightness and levity. Instead it has a stuffy indoor feeling under the direction of newcomer Gregory Thompson; the first act has all the gloomy trappings of tragedy. No real fault can be found in the acting, but the production’s predominating gloom mutes the play’s passion and fine feeling. Through Sunday. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Follies — Signature Theatre — **1/2. Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 rue-tinged musical about self-deception and the roads not taken is set in a dilapidated theater — the former home of the glittering Weismann Follies — during the first and only reunion of the once-glittering showgirls, now sagging, who used to prance nightly on the stage there. “Follies” is Mr. Sondheim’s deepest and most lovely work. It’s tricky to do, brassy and fragile at once, with a big cast, huge production numbers and a deeply emotional story at the center. Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has brought such insight and power to the other Sondheim musicals, you assume this would be another triumph. But the truth is, you emerge from the Signature production disappointed with what happens onstage. Things look cramped, the singing and production numbers have a community-theater feel, and the cast does not seem up to the show emotionally. It is a bummer to come down so hard on “Follies,” but the delicate tension between the dream world conjured by the old-style production numbers and the deceptive dreams — or follies — of the principals must be maintained for the show to work on a plane more profound than a pastiche of musical style. Through June 1. 800/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• The Mad Dancers — Theater J — ***. This production of Yehuda Hyman’s enchanting, mind- and gender-bending dance-play marks the first collaboration between Theater J and local choreographer Liz Lerman. The play, co-directed by Miss Lerman and Nick Olcott, is dominated by a diminutive rebbe of the past (Naomi Jacobson) who wishes to find the next leader of his people. The rebbe fast-forwards a few centuries and alights on nebbishy Elliot Green (Alek Friedman), a repressed typist at IBM in San Francisco. That this dweeb could turn out not only to be a prince but a leader is truly a 21st century miracle. The play is a strange brew of heady storytelling and sinuous dancing that touches on ideas about faith, believing in the absurd, and how joy and light-hearted humor are right up there with cleanliness and godliness as Elliott, the unlikely prince, is led back to his faith and a purpose born out of a life-altering dream. You don’t have to be well-versed in Jewish history and symbolism to enjoy it, but it helps. Through June 1 at the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater, DC Jewish Community Center. 800/494-TIXS. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• The Miser — Olney Theatre — **1/2. David Marks, arguably the area’s most gifted physical comedian, seems tailor-made for the full-body mayhem of Moliere’s “The Miser” and its lead role, Harpagon, the enduring penny-pincher who would not subscribe to the adage “You can’t take it with you.” Harpagon’s love affair with moolah is such that Olney’s production, directed with affable charm by Halo Wines, even includes a love scene between Harpagon and his coffer, one of the wacky moments that make “The Miser” endearing. Yet Mr. Marks is such a whirlwind that whenever he leaves the stage everybody seems to droop a little, and the flatness is pervasive in the first act. MaryBeth Wise brings a cheerful weirdness to the role of Mistress Bete, a loyal servant strapped by her dual roles as cook and coachman. If only more of the cast were similarly inspired, “The Miser” would be less stingy with the laughs. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• The Play About the Baby — Studio Theatre — ***. A dapper, devastating production under the direction of Joy Zinoman, Edward Albee’s play gives us a mysterious older Man (Philip Goodwin) and Woman (Nancy Robinette) who cheerfully begrudge a Girl (Kosha Engler) and Boy (Matt Stinton) everything — their youth, their happiness, their love, their new baby, even their grip on reality. The production is not for the prudish: It contains male and female nudity, frank language and simulated intercourse as the Girl and Boy make love nonstop. But if your life is going to be ripped apart by two postmodern demons, you can’t find more entertaining goblins than Mr. Goodwin and Miss Robinette. Droll, witty and playful, they dress well, have the bubbly bonhomie of the most scintillating cocktail party guest, and play with your mind with such epicurean delicacy it is like being eaten alive by escargot. Mr. Albee seems to take great pleasure not only in crafting arch, crystalline dialogue, but in having both the actors and the audience in the same unsteady emotional state at the end. You want to both curse and congratulate him for leaving you in such a frame of mind. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• Richard III — The Shakespeare Theatre — ****. There is so much that is Jacobean and excessive about Shakespeare’s “Richard III” that you can’t take it too seriously or it would be unbearable to watch. In director Gale Edwards’ audacious and racing production, it becomes a horror movie, set in an a hospital waiting room so institutional and severe it seems like an HMO run by Satan. In this setting Wallace Acton as Richard is reptilian and seductive, luxuriating in the role and inviting us all to have as much evil fun as he appears to be having onstage. You almost find yourself cheering on the murders that occur with video game regularity — and there are Grand Guignol thrills galore in Miss Edwards’ production, which emphasizes the chills and gore over poetry and tragedy. She also keeps things going at a flashing pace, getting you so caught up in Richard’s villainous charm and his destructive course that the 90-minute first act just flies by. Of course, there is no play without a great Richard, and Mr. Acton creates a portrait of a psychopath in which we can see ourselves and smile. Through Sunday. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

• The Second Man — The American Century Theater — ***. S.N. Behrman’s first major theatrical success, first produced on Broadway in 1927, might remind you of a Noel Coward play with its drop-dead sophistication, smashing wordplay, breezy evocation of the Roaring Twenties and modern take on romance that takes champagne before love. However, Mr. Behrman possesses both a honed insight into human nature and a flippant wit that borders on the heartless. “The Second Man” sets up a delectable tension between these two extremes. The title of the play refers to the inner self of suave Manhattan bon vivant Clark Storey (Bruce Alan Rauscher), a self-confessed second-rate short story writer. His “second man” is a cynical observer, expert in urbane epigrams and acid put-downs, who pooh-poohs Storey’s attempts to express his honest emotions, even as Storey and his friends try to sort themselves into romantic pairs. The play speeds along like a terrier with ADD, and fans of snappy patter and lively zingers will find much to admire here. Through May 24 at Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. 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.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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