- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003


• All’s Well That Ends Well — Folger Theater. Shakepeare’s comedy about Helena and her love of a young nobleman. Opens Saturday. 202/554-7077.

• The Dispute — Theater Alliance. An experimental garden of Eden is created to explore which sex was the first to prove inconstant with love. Opens tonight at the H Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497.

• The Fall of the House of Usher — Scena Theatre. Edgar Allan Poe’s tale of terror and premature burial. Opens Tuesday at the Warehouse Theater. 703/684-7990.

• A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum — Signature Theatre. Stephen Sondheim’s musical about a slave’s attempt to gain his freedom. Opens Tuesday. 703/218-6500.


• Charley’s Aunt — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — ***. This cross-dressing, Brit-wit comedy has had them rolling in the aisles for nearly 110 years. In Olney’s pert production, directed with buoyancy and flair by John Going, laughs abound. The play uses the stuff of classic farce — double takes, sight gags, double entendres and skirt-chasing. Erik Steele is a standout as Lord Fancourt Babberley, the Oxford undergrad who masquerades as a chaperone (Charley’s aunt) in an old-lady wig and dress to help his chums Charles Wykeham (Peter Wylie) and Jack Chesney (Jon Cohn) woo their intendeds during a lunch party. When Charley’s real aunt shows up late in the second act, we have the added pleasure of a performance played with affectionate amusement by the sublime Halo Wines. The handsomely appointed set by scenic designer James Wolk looks like the Bombay Company showroom. The play has no fresh insights, but it will beguile you with its timeless depiction of innocence and first love. Through Nov. 2. 301/924-3400. 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 Nov. 15. 202/347-4833. 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. “Proof” is a nearly flawless examination of the life of the mind and the interrelationship of creativity and madness. 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. 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.

• 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 Sunday.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. The picaresque tale centers on Andre, a young man searching for meaning 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 French Revolution. 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 Saturday. 703/418-4808. 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.


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