- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 24, 2004

OPENING

• Children of Eden — Ford’s Theatre. A musical look into family relationships beginning with Adam and Eve. Opens tonight. 202/347-4833.

• Cocktail — Cherry Red Productions. Bartender Roy’s business is failing until he mixes a drink for his wife and adds a special secret ingredient. Opens tomorrow at the Source Theatre. 202/298-9077.

• Fences — Round House Theatre. August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work portrays the frustration of a Negro League baseball player who had to work as a garbage man before the color barrier was broken. Opens Wednesday. 240/644-1100.



• Los Big Names — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Writer and comedian Marga Gomez stars in this world premiere solo comedy drama about an actress set to film her underwater death scene. Opens tonight at the Kennedy Center AFI Theater. 202/467-4600.

NOW PLAYING

• Arcadia — Rep Stage — **1/2. The 1993 comedy takes place in the English country estate of Sidley Park and alternates between the early 1800s and the modern day. In this respectful production, directed by Kasi Campbell, Tom Stoppard’s wordplay is as glittering as always. His deftly drawn characters are there, and so are the intellectual detective story and the potent theatrical device of mingling past and present in a single room. The staging is impeccable. Still, something is missing. The fault lies in the uneven acting styles: In this production the smaller roles are the stronger ones. Mr. Stoppard’s play is still enchanting, but you’ll be less dazzled by this often earthbound vision of it. Through Sunday at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Cats — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. Toby’s is one of the first theaters to attempt to re-create the kittenish allure of this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical warhorse, which premiered on Broadway in 1982 and has just become available for regional productions. 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,” a dotty and keenly observed musing on mouser behavior. You do miss a complete orchestra, however, as the keyboard-heavy 10-piece orchestra strives not to sound rinky-dink. Matters are greatly aided by an 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.

• Fathers and Sons — Stanislavsky Theater Studio — *. Turgenev’s 1862 novel raised in a still firmly Czarist Russia the divisive issues of class structure, socialism, and revolution: Two old Russian families are trapped in traditionalism even as their own sons, university students influenced by the latest radical ideas, rebel against them. Irish playwright Brian Friel’s adaptation, first performed in 1987, carves the essence out of the powerful tale. Yet this yawn-inducing new production is more an endurance contest than a provocative evening of drama. Mr. Friel’s dialogue is windy and didactic, and director Andrei Malaev-Babel’s sense of pacing is funereal: His characters shuffle about like zombies, and each of the many pregnant pauses seems to last a full nine months. “Fathers and Sons” is still best experienced as a novel. Through April 25 at the Church Street Theater. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Homebody/Kabul — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Theatre J — ***1/2. Director John Vreeke has a genius for taking dense material and spinning it into something unexpectedly magical and immediate. He’s done it again with a wrenchingly affecting and beautifully acted production of Tony Kushner’s nearly four-hour play, in which a British housewife takes off for adventure in the Taliban’s Afghanistan, only to disappear and leave her daughter and husband searching the country for her. Mr. Vreeke has taken a wordy, political play and made it into a moving study of what happens to human beings assaulted by tragedy and flux. Through April 11 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Slow Dance on the Killing Ground — Everyman Theatre — ***. The three main characters in playwright William Hanley’s compelling 1964 drama are on the lam, from their own false selves. All three wind up in a musty old candy store in Brooklyn late one night and by dawn the three have killed the personas that shield them and cut them off from an authentic life. The characters learn there is “something better” out there other than lives built on secrets and lies. Director Jennifer L. Nelson choreographs the play as if it were a jazz-fueled dance piece, and the actors dive in with relish. Yet the drama feels overlong and padded, and some of the flights of language, so wild and startling in the beginning, overstay their welcome and become boring. Through April 18. 410/752-2208. 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. Extended through April 4. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Yellowman — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — **1/2. Dael Orlandersmith’s bold, poetic two-person play examines the hierarchy of color in black society and how damaging it can be to equate lighter skin with attractiveness and superiority. Set in the 1960s and ‘70s, the play gives us the dark, nappy-haired Alma (Laiona Michelle) and the light-skinned Eugene (Howard W. Overshown), both raised — in backwoods South Carolina households that are dens of booze and violence — by people who hate them for the way they look. The power of their love carries “Yellowman” to epic heights, yet the play falters in the second act, when it all dissolves into an unwelcome and unnecessary blast of ghoulish melodrama, a glob of alcoholism, miscarriage and murder. Through April 18. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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