- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

OPENING

• Camelot — Arena Stage. The Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe musical based on “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

• The Carpetbagger’s Children — Quotidian Theatre Company. A tale of three daughters of a Union soldier who settled in Texas following the Civil War. Opens tomorrow at The Writer’s Center. 301/816-1023.

• The Gifts of the Magi — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. Adapted from the stories of O. Henry, the play is a tale of young lovers in New York who demonstrate the true spirit of giving. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

• Hubert & Charlie — The African Continuum Theater Company. Ethnic identity challenges a friendship and a new found romance in Mel and Jennifer Nelson’s world premiere musical. Opens tonight at Kennedy Center AFI Theater. 202/467-4600.

• Miss Nelson Has a Field Day — Imagination Stage. Miss Nelson and Miss Viola Swamp are the stars in this sequel to “Miss Nelson Is Missing.” Opens Saturday. 301/280-1660.

• Noel and Gertie — Metro Stage. A musical revue featuring the music of Noel Coward and focusing on his relationship with Gertrude Lawrence. Opens tonight. 703/548-9044.

• Scapin — University of Maryland Department of Theatre. Bill Irwin and Mark O’Donnell’s adaption of Moliere’s comedy. Opens tomorrow at Robert and Arlene Kogod Studio Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. 301/405-2787.

NOW PLAYING

• All’s Well That Ends Well — Folger Theatre — .*. “All’s Well” has been called one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays.” It is a transitional play in Shakespeare’s shift from lighter, romantic comedies to tragedies. And the Folger’s staging, directed by Richard Clifford, emphasizes its more funereal and grim aspects. Holly Twyford makes the heroine, Helena, grimly determined and humorless. James Ginty plays the man she inexplicably loves, Bertram, as such a weakling and pouty fellow you are completely flummoxed as to why Helena is so determined to make him love her. In fact, this “All’s Well” is subdued and plodding to a fault. Even the presence of two clowns fails to liven things up. Through Nov. 30. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Bounce — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — **. You would think a musical called “Bounce” would have some. But there is a surprising lack of buoyancy and lift to composer Stephen Sondheim’s first new musical since 1994’s “Passion.” Seamy and passionless, “Bounce” is filled with unappealing characters and a score that’s brilliant only in fits and starts. It’s based on the lives of two notorious con artists, the irascible Mizner brothers, Addison (Richard Kind) and Wilson (Howard McGillin). The real-life brothers hobnobbed with the rich and titled and were celebrated in song and story — so they must have had some charm. But as portrayed with yeomanlike dedication by Mr. Kind and Mr. McGillin, Addison and Willie are just two-bit creeps. That’s the biggest problem with “Bounce”: You want to get as far away from this family as you can. “Bounce” may be a tribute to “the game,” a never-ending succession of tricks and frauds, but when the audience feels taken, where’s the fun in that? Through Sunday. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Dazzle — Rep Stage — ***1/2. Playwright Richard Greenberg is known for the brainy zing of his dialogue. His 2002 work, “The Dazzle,” doesn’t disappoint. His reverie about the relationship between the legendary Collyer brothers (two aristocratic Manhattanites who were found buried in their Harlem mansion in 1947 under 136 tons of foraged junk) crackles with high-toned wordplay and devastating wit. Mr. Greenberg is interested in the inner dynamics of the Collyers’ strange binds, why they chose to retreat from society while still in their twenties, why they found precious and fascinating all the things other people threw away. And as the brothers, Bruce Nelson and Bill Largess are sublime. Together, they make the Collyer Brothers arty and weirdly fascinating. “The Dazzle” draws you into their creepy and contained world of two brothers who found beauty and worth in the stuff — and the souls — other people left behind. Through Nov. 23 at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — Signature Theatre — ***1/2. If your brand of humor tends to be of the baggy-toga variety, then Signature’s “Forum” is right up your agora. Under the burlesque-brassy direction of Gary Griffin, the 1962 Stephen Sondheim musical is rousing and rowdy and staged and performed with a comedic sense as warm as the Etruscan sun. The musical centers on Pseudolus, a Roman slave who wants freedom in the worst way. And comic master Floyd King plays the wily slave with cheek and style. The humor is bawdy and sexual, but this is low-brow musical comedy at its most irrepressible. “Forum” may seem like a crude trifle, but the antics are done with the smarts and style that raise schtick to the level of art. Through Dec. 14. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Grapes of Wrath — Ford’s Theatre — **. This production of John Steinbeck’s novel is so arduous that at times you feel as though you, too, are stuffed aboard the Joad family’s over-burdened jalopy as they rattle along Route 66 on a spirit-busting journey to a better life in California. They are hot, tired, dirty and broke — Oklahoma victims of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. Despite a transcendent performance by Annabel Armour as Ma Joad, much of “Grapes” is slow, rough going. The central character, Tom Joad (Craig Walker), is played as a sulky, overgrown and immature character with a hair-trigger temper and a mean streak. And without a strong Tom Joad, “Grapes” becomes not a young man’s journey from undisciplined ruffian to champion of workers’ rights but a severely episodic look at suffering. Everyone is miserable and it just gets worse — until you envy those who died along the way. What is lacking is the sense of unquenchable spirit in these people who left their homes behind for the great unknown. Through Saturday. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Life of Galileo — Studio Theatre — ***. Ted van Griethuysen brings to rugged, flawed life the brilliant 17th-century scientist Galileo in this production of Bertolt Brecht’s play, newly and bracingly translated by playwright David Hare. And the portrait of Galileo — an intellect who can plot the heavens, but a man oblivious to the intentions of the people surrounding him — is what gives the play mercy and depth. Director David Salter keeps each character in perpetual, swirling orbit around him, giving the production a swift, celestial rhythm. Helen Q. Huang’s burnished-gold and hammered-copper set features interlocking circles and spheres that give the sensation of being inside a model of the solar system. The large cast does an admirable job, fleshing out their characters so they are more than pawns in Galileo’s personal cosmos. This is a play of ideas, but what ultimately impresses is how expertly it engages the intellect without sacrificing the heart. Through December 7. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Proof — Arena Stage — ****. David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a finely wrought piece, blending psychological drama with romance and elements of an intellectual whodunit. The advanced mathematics sketched out in “Proof” form the basis for the play, but it is essentially about relationships — between father and daughter, siblings and two people in the early stages of a love affair. It satisfies on multiple levels. The four well-delineated and tightly interwoven characters are heightened by a quartet of superior performances, and Wendy C. Goldberg’s direction is sharp and perceptive. Through Nov. 23. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Ragtime: The Musical — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. The last great musical of the 20th century, based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel, is epic in scope, depicting a turning point in American life when people were caught between the racing present and the familiar past. The Broadway version was huge. Yet director Toby Orenstein has brought it to a cramped 300-seat dinner theater without sacrificing quality or compromising its innate bigness. Through Nov. 23. 410/730-8311. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Topdog/Underdog — The Studio Theatre — ***1/2. Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play gives the age-old Cain and Abel story a raw, bruising immediacy. Here the plot centered on two brothers — fittingly called Booth and Lincoln — bound by sibling rivalry, jealousy, love, loyalty and parental abandonment feels new, its emotional territory unsurveyed. Jahi Kearse is musical and muscular as Booth; Thomas W. Jones II as Lincoln is more measured and slick. Together they create such an intimacy that you almost feel reluctant to intrude upon it. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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