- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

OPENING

• Arcadia — Rep Stage. Two present-day scholars race to solve the mysteries surrounding a historic country estate while a cast of actors from the 1800s acts out what really happened. Opens tomorrow at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900.

• Henry IV, Part 2 — The Shakespeare Theatre. Hotspur, the Earl of Northumberland, joins forces with the Archbishop of York to advance against the king’s army while Prince Hal attempts to distance himself from his old friend Falstaff. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.

NOWS PLAYING

• Deathwatch — Actors’ Theatre of Washington, Washington Shakespeare Company — **. This visually stunning joint production of French playwright Jean Genet’s 1942 work takes place in jail, as three inmates sharing a cell vie for power and control. It’s theater verite in a raw, unfinished, cell-like space where theatergoers sit on uncomfortable chairs or on cushions on the floor. The set is a cement block obscured by a scrim that is so close you can practically touch the actors, and the effect is clammy and claustrophobic. The production’s visual aspects are superb. If the acting were as compelling, you’d really have something. There are hailstorms of overacting, but they are off-putting in such a small space and seldom amount to anything except unintentionally hilarious expressions of angst. Through March 20 at the Warehouse Theater’s Second Stage. 202/298-9077. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Having Our Say — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **. Based on a popular 1993 book, “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” was a Broadway hit and earned Tony and Drama Desk nominations when it was made into a play in 1995. But it isn’t aging as well as the 103-year-old Sadie and the 101-year-old Bessie did. It seems like ancient history to have the sisters talking about Dan Quayle, David Duke and Jimmy Carter. What really saps this un-spry production of its vitality is the acting: Claudia Robinson is effective as Sadie, but Gloria Suave as Bessie flubbed so many of her lines and tripped over so many cues you wondered if she was a last-minute understudy (she wasn’t). Sad to say, Olney’s production does not uphold the impeccable standards these women aspired to — and achieved — in their long, fulfilling lives. Through March 21. 301/924-3400. 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 Saturday. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Love and Taxes — Old Vat Room, Arena Stage — ***1/2. In the nuttily neurotic universe of Josh Kornbluth — whose massively funny one-man show closes Sunday after too brief a run — love and taxes are not only intertwined, they make it possible for him to let go of his over-idealized relationship with his dead father and allow new love into his heart. That the IRS could bring about this transformation is a miracle in itself, but Mr. Kornbluth is such a skilled storyteller that such reaches seem warm and tangible. He has a way with zingers and his Groucho Marx eyebrows, Larry Fine-style Stooge hairdo and staccato delivery makes him the perfect comic figure. “Love & Taxes” will make you want to kiss your W2s. Well, almost. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

The three main characters in Melissa James Gibson’s mind-bending play may be holed up in their tiny New York apartments, but they still reach out to others as needy or nutso as they are — even though they are merely using each other. “[sic]” is linguistically inventive and free-form in style and punctuation. Director Kathleen Akerley reinforces that structure with dynamically unusual staging in a set that reminds you of a spider’s web. In Susan Lynskey, Michael Glenn and Ian LeValley, the production boasts three terrific actors. The play does not make perfect sense, but it will enfold you in a wild and often disquieting world of people who yearn for connection but are caught in a death spiral of manipulation and deceit. Through Sunday at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-2125. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Sweeney Todd — Center Stage — ***1/2. Irene Lewis, artistic director at Baltimore’s Center Stage, daringly eliminates most of the Victorian era and music hall trappings that dominate many a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Grand Guignol masterpiece. She opts instead for something darker, sleeker and altogether more vampiric, with a Goth-punk edge that owes as much to The Cure as it does to Bertolt Brecht. While the overall level falls short of the steamy production at the Kennedy Center two years ago, it gains in sheer verve what it may lack in resources. Sondheim purists might squawk, but those with open minds are in for a show that puts over the gorgeous material in electrifying and prickly ways. Through April 11. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Syringa Tree — Studio Theatre — ****. 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 Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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