- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 29, 2003

OPENING

• The Brothers Karamazov — Stanislavsky Theater Studio. An adaption of Dostoevsky’s novel about a world divided and full of violence and chaos. Opens tonight. 800/494-8497.

• The Dazzle — Rep Stage. Bruce Nelson and Bill Largess recreate the bizarre story of the Collyer brothers, the two eccentrics who barricaded themselves in their mansion with 136 tons of junk. Opens tomorrow at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900.

• From Tel Aviv to Ramallah: A Beat-Box Journey — Theatre J. Hip-hop becomes a documentary when Yuri Lane, the beat-box storyteller, performs a piece about life in the Middle East. Opens Saturday at the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center. 202/518-9400.

• La Casa Azul — Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Inspired by the writings of Frida Kahlo, the play tells the story of her inner struggles hours before her first and only exhibition in Mexico City. Opens tonight. 202/467-4600.

• A Midsummer Night’s Dream— The Shakespeare Theatre. Shakespeare’s tale of an enchanted land that is inhabited by both humans and fairies. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.

NOW PLAYING

• 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 Sunday. 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. 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 Nov. 9. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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