- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

NOW PLAYING

• Carousel — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **. This “chamber musical” approach to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 musical pares down the cast and orchestra and keeps the staging simple. This cuts costs but also exposes the musical’s sometimes jarring juxtapositions. Songs about geraniums in the “winder box” coexist uneasily with a rougher subtext involving wife beating, suicide, unhappy children and crimes of desperation. The psychological permutations require a deft hand so that the audience is rooting for the tormented hero, but director Brad Watkins displays little dexterity with the material. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Charlotte’s Web — Imagination Stage — ***1/2. E.B. White’s classic 1952 children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web,” touches on kindness, salvation, and the cycle of life without pandering to children or shielding them from the universal truth that things die, yet live on in our memories and our sadness. It’s brought to life by Imagination Stage with all its melancholy and simple goodness gloriously intact. Through Jan. 9. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Importance of Being Earnest — Fichandler Theater at Arena Stage — **. Oscar Wilde’s breathtakingly witty 1895 comedy is an airtight confection: One false move, one jarring note, and all the lightness and seemingly effortless artifice are compromised. That’s what happens here as director Everett Quinton gooses up this drawing-room comedy with low-comedy conventions; in short, it’s a burlesque approach to Oscar Wilde. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Our Lady of 121st Street — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. In Stephen Adly Guirgis’ rancorously funny play, a wake in a Harlem neighborhood for the formidable nun Sister Rose, whose corpse has been stolen, brings out the true colors of those who knew her. Mr. Guirgis, who sees profanity as an art form, doesn’t paint a pretty picture in this spiky character study. The production is staged under the flinty direction of John Vreeke, who makes talky plays float and glide and can coax unexpected performances out of actors. The pairing of Mr. Vreeke and Mr. Guirgis is inspired, resulting in a production that revels in roughness and urban despair but still manages to address matters of spirituality. Through Jan. 2 at the Kennedy Center Film Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Pericles — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***1/2. In structure and style, this later play of Shakespeare’s (and there are some doubts he wrote it all) is more like an epic poem teeming with characters and incident, with an episodic plot that almost defies unity. Through Jan. 2. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka — Kennedy Center Theater Lab — **1/2. The bells and whistles are of the dime-store variety in the Kennedy Center’s low-tech take on Roald Dahl’s classic book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the 1971 cult film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The no-frills approach works much of the time, but this could be attributed to the gifted cast of seven, who play various characters as well as operate puppets. Through Sunday. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Thoroughly Modern Millie — Kennedy Center Opera House — **. Based on the 1967 Julie Andrews movie that was a rather strained attempt to capture the madcap verve of the Jazz Age, this production of the Tony-winning show dazzles with spiffy choreography, energetic performances and fabulous art deco costumes. Yet beneath the sequins and fancy footwork, the musical seems flimsy and vacuous. Through Sunday. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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