- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

OPENING

• Altruists — Catalyst Theatre Company. Some people will do anything for a cause. Opens tonight at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. 800/494-8497.

• The Cripple of Inishmaan — Studio Theatre. An offbeat comedy full of eccentric characters and unexpected twists written by Martin McDonagh, one of Ireland’s most celebrated young playwrights. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

• The Master and Margarita — Synetic Theater. An adaptation of one of Russia’s greatest literary works, starring the Devil, disguised as a professor, wreaking havoc in Stalinist Moscow. Opens tonight at the Rosslyn Spectrum. 202/462-5364.

• Of a Sunday Morning — Charter Theater Company. One woman’s quest for truth in the future in hindered by national security concerns. Opens Wednesday. 202/333-7009.

• Orpheus Descending — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater. One of Tennessee Williams’ weightier plays. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

NOW PLAYING

• Boy Gets Girl — Theater Alliance — **1/2. Playwright Rebecca Gilman explores what happens to a New York writer when a rejected suitor begins to stalk her, eventually wrecking her life. The disquieting play is a peculiar hybrid, part women’s-issue-of-the-week diatribe and part dissection of some interesting ideas: Where lies the line between romance and obsession? Do violence and vulnerability bring out the best in women? Lucy Newman-Williams gives a beautifully tempered performance as the writer, but most of the acting is inconsistent. The play itself is one-sided and predictable, and gets talky. Kudos to Theater Alliance for bringing Miss Gilman’s work here, but this production reduces a contemporary nightmare to the prosaic. Through May 23 at the H Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• 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. But it looks as if there’s no exit from the 1960s. Through June 6. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• The Comedy of Errors — Folger Theatre — ***1/2. Hey, listen: This D.C. director named Joe Banno gets together with the Folger, and they set this play about mistaken identity in modern-day Brooklyn. They put New York Italian accents on Shakespeare’s English, and dress up the actors like cheap floozies and two-bit hoods. People play “Godfather” music in the background and the cast is terrific. What a concept. Shakespeare purists probably won’t like it, but this manic act of rehab is so nutty it actually works. So go buy a ticket, see? Through May 23. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Far Away — Studio Theatre — ****. Brought to jolting life by an ideal cast, by artistic director Joy Zinoman and a superlative design team, British playwright Caryl Churchill’s creepy jab to the brain and solar plexus delivers some of the most alarming and exquisite imagery you’ll see anywhere, in a production that burrows in your subconscious like a nightmare. Set in wartime somewhere in the 20th century, the play takes the idea that there is no refuge from battle to almost existential extremes, by subverting civilization’s warmest, fuzziest moments — a parade, a child’s visit to the home of loving relatives — so that our comfort zones are abolished. This is a shuddery warning: The enemy is not in some far-off place, but within and without us. Through May 23. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Henry IV, Part 2 — The Shakespeare Theatre — **. “Henry IV, Part 1” examines the impetuousness and wastrel ways of youth. Its companion, Part 2, gives a burnished treatment of old age. This production, directed at a processional pace by Bill Alexander, captures the long nap of aging and death almost too well. The gloomy wooden set does little to lift one’s spirits, nor does the uninspired staging. Thankfully, both plays feature the irascible figure of Falstaff, played with zaftig bonhomie by Ted van Griethuysen. In fact, the more seasoned actors run off with the play. In repertory with Part 1 through Sunday. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train — Round House Theatre Silver Spring — ***. This production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ stark and funny examination of the judicial system could have been just another evocation of life behind bars. Yet it is about faith, about whether redemption is possible, and the urgency of prayer. It tackles these issues with compassion, bottomless humor and a pugilistic energy. The torrent of profanity, the depiction of the grim realities of prison life, and the intensity of the imagery, make it a difficult ride. Its rewards lie in the searing performances and the robust fire of Mr. Guirgis’ language. Through May 30. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Oh, Coward! — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — *1/2. A celebration of the drollery of English writer and bon vivant Noel Coward, this production is a pastiche of his music hall ditties, vermouth-dry witticisms and memorable lines. The set is perfect, an art deco nightclub in gorgeous black and rose-gold. But the rest is all champagne and no fizz. With Coward, the breeziness must be effortless. This production feels labored and forced, with the cast of three straining for insouciance. In fact, the show is about as airy as a closed-off room. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Senor Discretion Himself — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — ***. This exuberant, mischievous production of Frank Loesser’s lost 1968 Mexican musical about the redemption of a town sot is given both corazon and cojones by director Charles Randolph-Wright, who did such an outstanding job with Mr. Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls” at Arena in 2000. The multiethnic cast is on fire. And the performance artists Culture Clash inject the book with a shot of irreverence. The musical is a product of its era and could not be called “culturally sensitive,” but it certainly is a lot of fun. Through May 23. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Waiting for Godot — Washington Shakespeare Company — ***. This frequently funny production of Samuel Beckett’s enigmatic tragicomedy, wherein two tramps confront their meaningless lives, is a revelation: To its existential angst and discordant poetry “Godot” adds the elements of burlesque comedy. Audience members laughed out loud at the cracking comedic timing of Christopher Henley, a Stan Laurel type who seems born to play Vladimir, and Brian Hemmingsen, who as Estragon recalls the gentle buffoon Bert Lahr. Together they are peerless. As directed by Dorothy Neumann, this affecting staging casts laughter and humanity into the dark corners of Mr. Beckett’s world. Through May 22 at the Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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