- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

OPENING

• An Amazing Adventure — Classika Theatre. The story of a town’s jester, his trained monkey and the adventure they encounter on their way to a New Year’s Eve carnival. Opens Saturday. 703/824-6200.

• A Christmas Carol — Ford’s Theatre. The stage adaption of the Charles Dickens classic in which Ebenezer Scrooge must learn about the joys of Christmas. Opens Saturday. 202/347-4833.

• If Only in My Dreams — American Century Theater. A holiday musical revue that evokes Christmas in the trenches and on the home front during World War II. Opens tonight. 703/553-8782.

• Mamma Mia! — National Theatre. ABBA’s greatest musical hits woven into three love stories. Opens tonight. 800/447-7400.

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.

• 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 20s, 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 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 Sunday 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 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 Dec. 7. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Midsummer Night’s Dream — The Shakespeare Theatre — ****. Reconceptualized as a kind of enchanted modernism, director Mark Lamos’ update of this most popular of Shakespeare’s plays is wildly witty, and works in ways that such improvements rarely do. Mr. Lamos, along with set designer Leiko Fuseya and costume designer Constance Hoffman, have created a misty otherworld where winged and sooty modernist fairies tumble and turn in the air, swimming through the mists of time, appropriately to the music of Saint-Saens’ shimmering “Fish” passage from “Carnival of the Animals.” Meanwhile, Oberon and his disgruntled queen Titania materialize as towering giants, taking on more human forms as they weave their wondrous spells. Children love the play for its nonsense and will not be damaged in the slightest by the small sprinkling of the Bard’s bawdy japes. Through Jan. 4. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• 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 Sunday. 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. ThroughSunday. 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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