- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

OPENING

• Filler Up! — Metro Stage. Deb Filler, who calls herself “the world’s only Jewish New Zealand comedian,” plays 27 different characters while baking a challah in this comedic play. Opens Wednesday. 703/548-9044.

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.

• The Crackpots — Synetic Theater — ***1/2. Synetic Theater’s production is a world-premiere stage adaptation of the 1973 Soviet Georgian film, “Sherekilebi,” written and directed by renowned Georgian director Rezo Gabriadze. A picaresque tale of a young bumpkin in the big city who lands first in prison and then in an asylum, it is a fantastical allegory about liberation and realizing your dreams. The final escape from confinement calls upon a Rube Goldberg-esque machine, a giant hen that flies. When the machine is finally running, which involves much flapping of enormous homemade wings, the sight is miraculous and stirring. Using balletic movement and mime techniques, the supple cast seems to effortlessly portray everything with an arrowy grace — and the absurd becomes possible. Through Sunday at the Rosslyn Spectrum. 202/462-5364. 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. 14. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Jumpers — The Washington Shakespeare Company — **. Washington’s love affair with Brit-wit playwright Tom Stoppard is put sorely to the test with this ambitious but inert production of his 1972 play. Mr. Stoppard’s trademark brainy banter is buried somewhere in a sludge of gab, listless chemistry and clunky staging. A showoffish mix of murder mystery, love triangle and gas-bag philosophical diatribes, “Jumpers” needs that wildly absurdist/smarty-pants air of a Monty Python skit to work. Unfortunately, director Kathleen Akerley fails to conjure up an atmosphere of intellectual looniness, so the play falls flat at every turn. Through Saturday at Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Meet Me in St. Louis — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. This isn’t 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 Feb. 15. 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. “Melissa” could still use some tweaking, and the production’s added music is largely forgettable. But Mr. Wright has against all odds 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.

— 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 that we have come to know and love in 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 Feb. 15 at Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center. 202/777-3229. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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