- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

OPENING

• Come Fly(e) with Me! — Interact Theatre Company. Cabaret performances by Catherine Flye and friends celebrating the month of May. Opens tonight at Arena Stage Old Vat Theater. 703/760-9863.

• Pippin — Round House Theatre. The Tony Award-winning musical. Opens Wednesday. 240/644-1100.

• Private Lives — Olney Theatre. Noel Coward’s play: A divorced couple reignite the flames of passion when they happen to be honeymooning with their new spouses in adjoining rooms. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

• What Ever Happened to Black Love — Lincoln Theatre. Ernest Thomas, Bern Nadette Stanis and Terri J. Vaughan star in this play about the condition of the black family. Opens tonight. 202/432-SEAT.

NOW PLAYING

• 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.

• Bea’s Niece — MetroStage — **1/2. In David Gow’s play, novelist Anne Hirsch (Helen Hedman) has landed in the psych ward, in a deep state of depression and hallucinatory psychosis over her husband’s death from cancer the previous year. Her most vivid hallucination is an image of her Aunt Bea (Susan Ross), a vampy senior citizen who sassily clomps around the hospital room in fuschia-patterned high heels, toreador pants and a clingy leopard-print sweater. She also has a visit from her late husband, the whiny and passive-aggressive Bill (Tom Kearney), and in a revelatory scene relives with him his last day of agony. The top-notch ensemble is under the direction of Los Angeles hot shot Jessica Kubzansky, who stages the play with a crisp, impassioned theatricality that never rings false. But the play lacks the intellectual inquiry and rigor it requires, and keeps from the audience much that the audience needs to accept the plot’s twists and turns. Through June 8. 703/218-6500. 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 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.

• 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 Saturday 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.

• Underneath the Lintel — Round House Theatre — ***. Glen Berger’s funny and gentle one-man play stars Jerry Whiddon, producing artistic director at Round House, in the inaugural production at Round House’s new space next door to the AFI’s Silver Theatre. Round House Silver Spring is a flexible, black box space seating 400, and while the possibilities of the modified thrust stage are endless, the modern steel-and-black fabric chairs are a lesson in pain management. The winsome play tells the story of a once mild-mannered librarian in a small town in Holland who takes to heart a book returned 113 years overdue, seeking to track down the borrower, who he at last decides is the mythical Wandering Jew. You can see the unraveling of the librarian’s personality as he details his quest. Mr. Whiddon, directed with unfussy command by Jane Beard, brings fully to life the character’s nobility and quiet desperation. Through June 8. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne M. Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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