- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004


• The Crucible — Keegan Theatre. The classic Arthur Miller tale about one man’s struggle toward grace, set during the 17th-century Salem witch trials. Opens tonight at Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497.

• Deathwatch — The Actors’ Theatre of Washington, Washington Shakespeare Company. Three inmates struggle for control of their prison cell. Opens Monday at the Source Theatre. 202/298-9077.

• The Early Miracle — Charter Theatre Company. A twister destroys a small South Carolina community, leaving in its wake a brokenhearted woman whose life is beginning to unravel. Opens Wednesday at Mead Theatre Lab, Flashpoint. 202/333-7009.

• Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight! — Warner Theatre. The 50th anniversary tour of the Tony-winning one-man show about the life of Mark Twain. Opens tomorrow, runs through Sunday. 202/432-SEAT.


• 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. 29. 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 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 churchwomen and the men in their lives. The music evokes moments of glory, the cast is uniformly exceptional, and Emilio Sosa has designed chapeaus that would make the Cat in the Hat pea-green with envy. Through Sunday. 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, and the rest of the production suffers in comparison. 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.

• A Man’s a Man — Arena Stage Fichandler Theater — **. Bertolt Brecht’s early attempt at revolutionizing theater is a grab bag of styles and conventions. Yet it is the nothingness of this play that numbs you — not to mention that this ironic comedy is just not funny enough to sustain its two-hour-plus length. Amusing bits here and there help to alleviate the bloat, but it cannot save this queasy hybrid of over-seriousness and crass humor. Through March 7. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Melissa Arctic — Folger Theatre — **1/2. A brand-new drama by Craig Wright, in its world premiere, that 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 folk tale by having dancers play the villagers, to a percussive beat. Through Feb. 29. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

Studio’s production of Pam Gien’s play, directed with subtle humanity by J.R. Sullivan, arouses both accolades and a sense of urgency. Actress Gin Hammond’s transcendent solo performance is miraculous. She plays more than 20 characters of various ages, genders and ethnicities as she conjures the parallel lives of whites and blacks in South Africa over 40 years, under apartheid and freed from it. The play is a one-woman show and portrays a small universe, but there is something operatic and epic in scale about “The Syringa Tree.” It is a singular theatrical experience. Through Feb. 29. 202/332-3300. 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 and writer-gardener Vita Sackville-West. The relationship was Sapphic — Miss Sackville-West was a highborn free spirit infamous for her dalliances with both sexes — but the allure of the play lies in the spiritual and intellectual. The women’s letters chart the course of the relationship, from early wooing to protracted breakup to 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.

• Wintertime — Round House Theatre — ***. You need a score card to keep track of the entanglements in Charles L. Mee’s frisky farce on the nature of lasting love, but the central idea is a tried and true one for romantic comedy: Throw a bunch of disparate people together in wacky circumstances — in this case a lakeside summer house in winter — and see what happens. Not many playwrights can get away with low comedy combined with talky, billowy speeches on eros, but Mr. Mee pulls it off with verve and originality. The humor is plentiful, the cast confident and audacious, and the glorious talk and the sheer physicality of the piece give it rapacious, gulping energy. Through Feb. 29. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jane Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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