- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

OPENING

• Having Our Say — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. The last hundred years of our nation’s history through the eyes of black pioneers, 103-year-old Sadie Delany and her sister, 101-year-old Bessie. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

• [sic] — Theater Alliance. Three neighbors gather to discuss, flirt, argue and share their dreams. Opens Saturday at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-2125.

• The Syringa Tree — Studio Theatre. A tale of two families — one black, one white — who share a house in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. Opens tomorrow. 202/332-3300.

NOW PLAYING

• Allegro — Signature Theatre — ***. This misunderstood 1947 Rodgers and Hammerstein concept musical, an Everyman fable about the son of a small-town, Midwestern doctor who gets further and further away from his core values as he passes into adulthood in big, bad New York City, was originally a critical and box-office dud. Now it is being revamped at Signature Theatre by director Eric Schaeffer, with a rewritten book by Joe DiPietro, a satisfying reshuffling of songs and achingly beautiful orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. The result is fascinating, even though it is more a gorgeous curiosity than a wholly satisfying theatrical experience. Through Feb. 22. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Crowns — Arena Stage —****. This exuberant, soulful musical play, written and directed by Regina Taylor, is blowing the roof off Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theatre. The show is based on Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry’s book, “Crowns,” which was inspired by the authors’ mothers and combines elegant black-and-white photographs with interviews about black American women and their church hats. A fired-up cast of six depicts the book’s many church women and the men in their lives. Miss Taylor’s simple plotline takes on the form of a day-long church service. The music evokes moments of glory, the cast is uniformly exceptional, and Emilio Sosa has designed chapeaux that would make the Cat in the Hat pea-green with envy. Through Feb. 22. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Henry IV, Part I — The Shakespeare Theatre — ** 1/2. This play is more about the wayward Prince Hal’s ripening into a leader than about his father, the monarch. But Ted van Griethuysen’s canny portrayal of the career carouser Falstaff and Andrew Long’s caustic, hair-trigger portrait of the rebel Hotspur steal the show. The two actors bring such originality and vitality to their roles that the rest of the production suffers in comparison. Christopher Kelly as Prince Hal never quite takes us inside Hal’s nature, and thus his maturation is never quite convincing. Other than Keith Baxter’s astute and keenly measured performance as the guilt-haunted King Henry IV, the rest of the production is largely workmanlike and uninspired. Through March 13. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Meet Me in St. Louis — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. Not a show for the sugar-sensitive. Based on the 1944 Vincente Minnelli film, it captures all the sweeping changes and gentle constancy of turn-of-the-20th-century America with lollipop sweetness. As usual, Toby’s exceeds expectations of what can be done in the round at a dinner theater. In this production, it’s a fully operational trolley car and a scene in which the company spins around on skates. Sam Huffer’s fancy costumes feature the sherbet colors, band-box stripes and lacy florals of the era. Through Sunday. 410/730-8311. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Melissa Arctic — Folger Theatre — **-1/2. What do you get when you take a really weird old play and spruce it up? You get a really weird new play. This brand new drama by Craig Wright, in its world premiere, updates Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” transporting the Bard’s strangely disjointed vision to contemporary, snowbound Pine City, Minn. If, as some critics say, “The Winter’s Tale” is really two plays — a tragedy and a comedy — smashed into one, “Melissa Arctic” comes as close as anything can to making the whole concept seem coherent. Mr. Wright has managed to transform Shakespeare’s creaky characters into easily recognizable and largely sympathetic modern types. Through Feb. 29. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters — Imagination Stage — ***. A hushed and lovely African variation on the Cinderella story that tells us a good heart trumps a pretty face, as two sisters (the daughters of the title) vie to become a king’s bride. It’s not just an inane good-and-evil story: Thembi Duncan as the spoiled sister actually makes you feel sympathy for her self-centeredness. Erika Rose as the Cinderella figure is sunny and strong rather than insufferable. Director Jennifer Nelson captures the African feel of the folktale by having dancers play the villagers, to a percussive beat. Through Feb. 29. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Welcome to My Rash and Third — Theatre J — ***. Playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s two new works — one-acts in their world premieres — are funny and deeply, unexpectedly poignant. The smart, Ivy League humor of Miss Wasserstein’s plays is very much in evidence, but director Michael Barakiva also draws out new, darker elements with delicacy and care. The female characters in both plays have an immediate concern: survival. Beyond that, they want to escape that shadowland that our culture reserves for middle-aged women. Both plays are definitely works in progress, yet are plays of promise and wisdom. Through Sunday at Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center. 202/777-3229. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Vita & Virginia — Rep Stage — ***. Lovers of language will delight in this epistolary play by English actress Eileen Atkins charting the loving friendship between novelist Virginia Woolf (Paula Gruskiewicz) and writer-gardener Vita Sackville-West (MaryBeth Wise). The relationship was Sapphic — Miss Sackville-West was a high-born free spirit infamous for her dalliances with both sexes — but the allure of the play lies in the spiritual and intellectual. In the women’s letters, words sit on the page as satiny and plump as sweet butter. They chart the course of the relationship, from early wooing to protracted breakup to Miss Woolf’s suicide. Judicious editing would have helped, but the tart, plummy language is worth the time. Through March 22 at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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