- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

OPENING

• Bounce — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Stephen Sondheim’s musical chronicles the life of con artists Addison and Wilson Mizner. Opens Tuesday. 202/467-4600.

• The Life of Galileo — Studio Theatre. David Hare’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s play about the battle between religion and science. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

• Manteca (Lard) — Teatro de la Luna. Alberto Pedro Torriente’s play about a Cuban family celebrating the new year with hopes for a brighter future. Opens tomorrow at the Gunston Arts Center. 703/548-3092.

• Oy! — The Center Company. Rich Orloff’s comical revue of vignettes of all things Jewish and all things human. Opens tomorrow. 703/323-7965.

• Sophisticated Ladies — University of Maryland Department of Theatre. A musical revue featuring the music of Duke Ellington. Opens tomorrow at the Ina and Jack Kay Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. 301/405-2787.

NOW PLAYING

m 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 Nov. 15. 202/347-4833. 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. It’s pretty weighty fare, but it offers substance and breadth — in addition to entertainment — with your buffet dinner. Through Nov. 23. 410/730-8311. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Rivals — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***1/2. A rollicking entertainment that wittily satirizes human foibles that haven’t changed since Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote the play in 1775. The production has the feel of a frozen confection, and director Keith Baxter maintains an astute airiness and fluff. Four fine performances keep the story going, and the entire ensemble cast gives its all. A refreshing treat from start to finish. Through Sunday. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Rough Crossing — MetroStage — **1/2. Tom Stoppard, known always for whip-smart wordplay and cascading wit, has set his play-within-a-play aboard a cruise ship in the 1920s. It’s a spoof about playwrights on a cruise ship toiling away at their latest Broadway-bound musical. Set, costumes and piano-bar ambience give the production a swell-egant feel. Michael Russotto and Nicole Mestres McDonnell are up to the demands of the Stoppard wordplay. Ian Gould plays a steward with special aplomb. The rest of the cast was not up to snuff, but with time the production might start sparkling. Through Oct. 26. 703/548-9044. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Scaramouche — Washington Shakespeare Company — **1/2. Youngsters and adults expecting swashbuckling and melodrama will probably be bored by the philosophical and reflective “Scaramouche,” adapted by Barbara Field from Rafael Sabatini’s novel. Set during the French Revolution, the picaresque tale centers on Andre, a young man who goes from lawyer to outlaw to actor before making his way to Paris, where he becomes a fencing master and gets swept up in the revolution. Along the way, he searches for meaning. Hugh T. Owen’s Andre is a petulant, grim man who lets life happen to him and gives scant insight into what he is thinking and feeling. As a result, this production is about as exciting as a historical tableau vivant. Its second-act improvements are not enough to salvage the production. The large cast wavers between good and amateurish and the work is weighted down by Miss Field’s pedantic adaptation. It’s a “Scaramouche” that lacks romance and fiery passion, dash and derring-do. Through Oct. 25. 703/418-4808. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Shakespeare in Hollywood — Arena Stage — ***. District playwright Ken Ludwig’s comedy slickly blends farce, fact, and fantasy for a madcap send-up of Tinseltown’s enduring love affair with the Bard, as exemplified by the low-brow Warner Brothers studio’s filming of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The juggling act is kept aloft by a steady stream of shameless puns and humor that goofs on classic Hollywood while spoofing Shakespearean conventions. Kyle Donnelly directs with light, daffy energy, and the cast is superb. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300. 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 impetus of 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 Nov. 3. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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