- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

NOW PLAYING

• Anna Karenina — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **. British playwright Helen Edmundson has a knack for adaptations. Unfortunately, the knack has deserted her with this turgid, overheated melodrama adapted from the novel by Leo Tolstoy. In the novel, Anna, the bored wife of a stuffy provincial bureaucrat, meets only once with Levin, the country squire who romanticizes the peasants until he realizes that true happiness lies in winning the hand of fellow aristocrat Kitty. Miss Edmundson has contrived a way to bring them together so that they are literally inside each other’s heads in some wacky, arty purgatory where bad women go. The stage play diminishes the grand, moving set pieces that marked Anna’s adulterous affair with the handsome, vapid Count Vronsky and made the novel a classic. These scenes either whip by or are given no more dramatic weight than every other sequence. Director Cheryl Faraone seems to be going for one seamless evening of passion and deep-purple emotions. But there is so much hamminess and bloat here that honest passion doesn’t stand a chance. Through Sept. 21. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Rivals — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***1/2. “The Rivals” is 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. Summer may be over, but you can still indulge yourself with “The Rivals,” a refreshing treat from start to finish. Through Oct. 19. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Shear Madness — Kennedy Center Theater Lab — **. This corny, hokey tourist trap — now in its second decade — is doubly maddening because the Kennedy Center displays it as art to the cultural center’s unsuspecting pilgrims. The audience-participation murder-mystery farce (set in a Georgetown hair salon) is well-played, though, when the actors refrain from mugging and cracking up one another. Continues indefinitely. 202/467-4600. File review by Nelson Pressley.

• Twentieth Century — Signature Theatre — ***. If you wish theater were more like old movies, look no further than Signature Theatre. All that’s missing from its world premiere of local playwright Ken Ludwig’s dashing “Twentieth Century” (a sprucing up and paring down of the classic play and film by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur) is the RKO Studios logo. If you’re going retro, there isn’t a better vehicle than Signature’s production, 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, revealing the sumptuous art deco drawing rooms, suites and reading areas all rendered in deep reds and taupes. Amtrak looks particularly dowdy in comparison. “Twentieth Century” also has a freight load 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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