- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

OPENING

• Gurney x 2 — Barnstormers Theatre Company. Two A.R. Gurney plays in one night: “The Love Course” and “The Comeback.” Opens tomorrow. 202/333-6319.

• Proof— Arena Stage. A young woman copes with the mental deterioration of her father, who was once a mathematical genius. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.



NOW PLAYING

• The Drawer Boy — Round House Theater — ***1/2. Canadian playwright Michael Healey’s deft three-character piece plumbs emotional depths. At first blush a folksy commentary on farm life versus city life, it then delves into 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, a 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 fine 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 the 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.

• 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 — a time of Noel Cowardly dialogue, Cole Porteresque songs, sleekness and style. 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.

• 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. 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” — and ups the ante. 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 — 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. 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. Through Nov. 3. 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. The play has a freightload of characters, but trumping them all is Donna Migliaccio’s wonderfully demented turn as Myrtle Clark. Through Sunday. 800/955-5566. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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