- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

OPENING

• Cats — National Theatre. Broadway’s longest-running musical, based on T.S. Eliot’s poems. Opens Tuesday. 800/447-7400.

• Charley’s Aunt — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. Jack loves Kitty and Charley loves Amy — but they can’t find a way to profess their love, until Charley’s aunt decides to return from Brazil and help the lads out. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

• Chekhov’s Jokes — Classika Theatre. Two of Anton Chekhov’s comedies — “The Marriage Proposal” and “The Bear” packaged into one play. Opens Saturday. 703/824-6200.



• Fool for Love — Rep Stage. A combustible relationship plays itself out against the background of the Old West. Opens tomorrow at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900.

NOW PLAYING

• The Drawer Boy — Round House Theater — ***1/2. Canadian playwright Michael Healey’s deft three-character piece plumbs emotional depths in this quietly involving play. At first blush a folksy commentary on farm life versus city life, it then delves into so much more — art versus truth, story versus fact, friendship versus dependency. Two bachelor farmers in 1970s Ontario, friends since boyhood, find their solitude interrupted by a drop-in, an overeducated city youth from Toronto who wants to experience farm life as research for a play he’s writing. His presence changes the duo’s dynamic, so that a deep friendship begins to appear a devastating intimacy. Three dynamic performances — Mitchell Hebert’s and Marty Lodge’s as the farmers and Eric Sutton’s as the actor/writer — make this a deeply affecting piece. Through Oct. 12. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Rivals — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***1/2. A rollicking entertainment that wittily satirizes human foibles that haven’t changed all that much since Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote the play in 1775. In design and costume the production has the feel of a frozen confection, and director Keith Baxter maintains an astute airiness and fluff. Tessa Auberjonois as Lydia Languish and Hank Stratton as Captain Jack Absolute keep the silly love story from blowing away with fine, grounded performances. Nancy Robinette does an eager, quick-witted turn as Lydia’s aunt, the language-mangling Mrs. Malaprop. She is met moment for moment by David Sabin’s hilarious Sir Anthony Absolute. The entire ensemble cast gives its all. A refreshing treat from start to finish. Through Oct. 19. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Robber Bridegroom — American Century Theater, Theater II — **. Some things are better left in the vault. This 1977 musical, based on a Eudora Welty novella and adapted for the stage by Alfred Uhry of “Driving Miss Daisy” fame, is one. Staged with tons of volume and enthusiasm, the revival still leaves one amazed that show lasted six months on Broadway. It’s a Southern gothic piece, yet as chipper and Kentucky-fried as as something out of “Hee-Haw” — then it adds an astonishing array of shrieking or caterwauling off-key singers. There are some bright spots, but when a disembodied head is the best voice in the show, you know you’re in trouble. Through Oct. 10 at Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Shakespeare in Hollywood — Arena Stage — ***. District playwright Ken Ludwig’s comedy, in its world premiere, slickly blends farce, fact, and fantasy for a madcap and meaningless send-up of Tinseltown’s enduring love affair with the Bard. The premise takes an already ridiculous, albeit factually based, idea — the low-brow Warner Brothers studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age filming “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” one of Shakepeare’s wittiest, richest comedies — and ups the ante. The tricky 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 — playing every Hollywood icon from Max Reinhardt to Jimmy Cagney and Joe E. Brown to Louella Parsons — is superb, though perhaps too broadly drawn and acted. Through Oct. 19. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Topdog/Underdog — The Studio Theatre — ***1/2. Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play shimmers with the kinetic riffs of jazz and the hard-times howl of the blues. She 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. The two are uneasy, if entirely dependent, roommates, one a small-time shoplifter, the other a scammer gone “legit” who portrays Abraham Lincoln in an arcade shooting gallery and so gets to be a great man for a few hours a day. He re-creates the assassination over and over again, becoming a mythic figure that carries the weight of oppression and slavery. Booth, a dreamer with a grudge whose girlfriend is doing him wrong, has gotten to the point where his heart can take no more scarring. 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. But Joy Zinoman’s thrillingly discreet direction draws you into the brothers’ bond and their battle for supremacy. The brothers’ combined hurt creates a poetry with a rhythm that beats harsh and unending. Through Oct. 12. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Twentieth Century — Signature Theatre — ***. If you’re going retro, there isn’t a better vehicle than this production of local playwright Ken Ludwig’s dashing play, a sprucing up and paring down of the classic play and film by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Signature’s production is buffed to a high polish by director Eric Schaeffer. Set designer James Kronzer has outdone himself transforming the space-challenged Signature interior. The audience sits in a bleacher-like formation smack-dab in front of an astonishingly accurate replica of the train, the 20th Century Limited. The set even moves, as if on a track. Amtrak looks dowdy in comparison. The play has a freightload of characters, but trumping them all is Donna Migliaccio’s wonderfully demented turn as Myrtle Clark. Through Oct. 5. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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