- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003


• Ghosts — The Shakespeare Theatre. Duty to society’s expectations and a father’s sin haunt a family in Ibsen’s play. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.

• Hamlet — The Shakespeare Theatre. The Shakespeare Free for All does the melancholy Dane. Opens tonight at Carter Barron Amphitheater 202/547-1122.

• Valentine’s Day — Quotidian Theatre Company. The area premiere of the “heart” of Horton Foote’s “Orphan’s Home Cycle.” Opens tomorrow at The Writers’ Center Auditorium. 301/816-1023.


• 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 Sunday. 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 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.

• A Class Act — The Studio Theatre — **1/2. A tribute to the late Edward Kleban, the ultra-phobic Broadway composer and lyricist best known for his collaboration with Marvin Hamlisch on “A Chorus Line,” this musical revue is an upbeat coda to an often downbeat life and career. Mr. Kleban died of cancer at 48, leaving behind a trunk full of sparkling songs that were seldom — if ever — heard. Many of these songs form the basis of this show, which is structured as a memorial service to Mr. Kleban organized by his friends at New York’s Shubert Theatre. Studio’s Serge Seiden directs with aggressive cheerfulness. There is an almost desperate — and self-defeating — insistence on Mr. Kleban’s status as a neglected genius. Relax, everybody, and just sing the songs. Through June 22. 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 Sunday. 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 versed in Jewish history and symbolism to enjoy it, but it helps. Through Sunday at the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater, DC Jewish Community Center. 800/494-TIXS. 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.


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