- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

OPENING

• The Book of Liz — Cherry Red Productions. When the inventor of the world famous cheese ball recipe is unseated as queen of cheese, she flees her sheltered lifestyle to explore the world. Opens tomorrow at the Source Theatre. 202/298-9077.

• Cyrano de Bergerac — The Shakespeare Theatre. Cyrano, swordsman, poet, musician and philosopher, loves his cousin Roxanne, but his large nose keeps him from telling her. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.

• Lypsinka in Rep — Studio Theatre. Three works in repertory written and performed by John Epperson: “As I Lay Lip-Synching,” “John Epperson: Show Trash,” and a reading of his new play “My Deah.” Opens tomorrow at Studio Theatre. 202/332-3300.

• O’Malley of Shananghah — The Keegan Theatre. De Bourke O’Malley returns to his native Ireland, where a man can fall in love. Opens tonight at Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497.

• Pumping Josey: Life and Death in Suburbia — Horizons Theatre. Faced with the unexpected death of her best friend, Josey Benjamin re-examines her suburban existence. Opens tonight at Theatre on the Run. 703/578-1100.

• Tape — Source Theatre Company. Ten years after high school, Jon and Vince reunite, only to have to confront the woman that they both dated in high school. Opens tomorrow. 202/462-1073

NOW PLAYING

• Cats — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. Toby’s is one of the first theaters to try to re-create the kittenish allure of this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical warhorse, which premiered on Broadway in 1982. The intimacy of the space makes the show less of an empty spectacle and aligns it more closely with its source material, T.S. Eliot’s book “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The keyboard-heavy 10-piece orchestra strives not to sound rinky-dink. But matters are helped by the emphasis on full-out choral singing. Costumes and makeup are captivating, and the actors give fetching portrayals of the show’s 26 cats. Through Aug. 8. 410/730-8311. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Children of Eden — Ford’s Theatre — **1/2. Based on a book by Tony winner John Caird, with music and lyrics by Tony nominee Stephen Schwartz, this accessible miniextravaganza is family fun loaded with colorful, familiar characters and visually arresting dance numbers. Its take on Judeo-Christian theology, however, is decidedly nonstandard. Its two acts remanufacture the decline and fall of Adam and Eve and the tempest-tossed voyage of Noah’s ark. The basic stories remain intact. However, the concepts of good and evil are largely peeled away. The youthful cast rocks with infectious enthusiasm, and the time flies if you just want to have fun. Through Sunday. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• The Cripple of Inishmaan — Studio Theatre — ***. Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s mean and funny play dashes the idea of Ireland as the land of sweetly singing tenors and twinkly-eyed natives. The people on this barren western Irish island in the 1930s are a cruel and violent lot. But gallows-humor comedy springs from their plight, and the black humor is brought to bouncy and bawdy fruition in this production, directed with not a whit of sentimentality by Serge Seiden. Through June 27. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Master and Margarita — Synetic Theater — ***. Synetic Theater is known for its non-traditional, movement-based productions, a natural fit for the black magic and black humor of Mikhail Bulgakov’s dizzyingly experimental novel, “The Master and Margarita.” The novel was secretly written in the 1930s during the Stalin regime and not published until 1967. The author caged his anti-Stalinist message in a refracted allegory of good and evil where the Devil is the main character, and Jesus and Pontius Pilate make cameo appearances. The acting ranges from the inspired to the hammy, but when the play comes into focus in its second half, the strange majesty of Mr. Bulgakov’s novel, and its epic battle between cynicism and spirituality, blazes into life. Through June 20 at the Rosslyn Spectrum. 202/462-5364. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Orpheus Descending — Arena Stage Kreeger Theater — **1/2. Tennessee Williams’ 1957 play is a potboiling stew of majestic lunacy and rococo characters, and this production could send you right over the edge. The characters in its malicious, bigoted rural Southern town are gaudily flawed, but fascinating; Mr. Williams’ mad poetry is at its peak here. When the Orpheus figure sidles into town in the person of hunka-hunka Val Xavier (Matt Bogart), he sets every woman’s head to whirling but homes in on the drearily married Lady Torrance (Chandler Vinton), the Eurydice figure, with whom he begins a scorchy affair. The plot is squalid, but the robust acting makes the characters something ripe and distinct on their own. Through June 22. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Passing the Love of Women — Theatre J — **1/2. Can an observant Jew love the Torah and another man? That is the question posed in this precautionary fable about mixing sex and religion in the shtetl of 19th-century Poland, based on the short story “Two” by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Two brilliant Talmudic scholars, under pressure to obey Jewish laws and marry, yet disgusted by the thought, take off to another town and live as man and wife. Enter all the cliches of situation comedy, so that the play swiftly becomes not an exploration of forbidden love at odds with deep spiritual beliefs, but a quasi-farce that dilutes the emotional nub of the play. Yet the production is visually impressive and the direction is strong. Through Sunday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Picnic — Center Stage — ***1/2. William Inge’s 1953 play about the passions stirred up in a small, conformist Kansas town when a brawny outsider saunters into town during its Labor Day picnic is receiving a punchy, imaginative staging at Baltimore’s Center Stage under the guidance of director Irene Lewis. The characters are formulaic, but the sharply drawn acting and Miss Lewis’ extraordinary ability to let us in on the characters’ inner lives take us beyond the pastel-colored peppiness of the era into something rich in shadow and light. This is a revival in the best sense. Through June 20. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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