- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004


• La Dama Duende (The Phantom Lady) — GALA Hispanic Theater. A young widow’s love for a stranger is thwarted at every turn in this cloak-and-dagger play. Opens tonight at the Warehouse Theatre. 240/234-7174.

• A Man’s a Man — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater. Bertolt Brecht’s dark comedy about a naive dock worker and his manipulated conversion into a soldier. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

• Looking Over the President’s Shoulder — Ford’s Theatre. The true story of Alonzo Fields, who dreamed of becoming an opera star but instead became the White House’s chief butler. Opens tomorrow. 202/347-4833.

• Nunsense — Warner Theatre. The Little Sisters of Hoboken take their comedic act on the road for the 20th anniversary all-star tour of the original. At the Warner through Sunday. 202/432-SEAT. Opens Tuesday, runs through Feb. 8 at the Lyric Opera House, Baltimore. 866/597-4600.

• Vita & Virginia — Rep Stage. The story of the love affair between feminist writer Virginia Woolf and poet Vita Sackville-West. Opens tomorrow. 410/772-4900.

• 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 one’s 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 Feb. 8 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 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 the form of a daylong 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.

• Jon Spelman: Off the Map — Round House Theatre — ***. In this one-man evening of storytelling, Jon Spelman is a compelling painter of word pictures whose quiet insights about rediscovering nature and taking the road less stressful are a balm for the ear and imagination. As he conjures up walks through Rock Creek Park and the Adirondacks, you quickly fall under the lulling spell of his words, and his ability to conjure scenery and costume changes with either a verbal picture or a sweep of his hand. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100. 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. For a play that features a gymnastics team made up of professors, this show is doggedly earthbound. 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 an atmosphere of intellectual looniness, so the play falls flat at every turn. Through Sunday 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 of 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.

• Mister Roberts — American Century Theater — *1/2. Director Jack Marshall gets high marks for reviving this touching comedy, which was a gigantic Broadway hit in 1948 before going on to become an even bigger movie in 1955. The play stands beautifully on its own, however, and comparisons to the movie are not the problem: There isn’t anything ailing this production that more rehearsal, a better set and charged connections between the actors couldn’t cure. When a live goat has the best comic timing in the bunch, you know something’s amiss. Through Saturday. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

— 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 definitely are 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.


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