- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

OPENING

• Mahalia — Metro Stage. A musical biography of the queen of gospel, Mahalia Jackson. Opens tonight. 800/494-8497.

• Necessary Targets — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. Two American women travel to Bosnia to counsel a group of Bosnian women refugees, only to discover their own lives are not what they seem. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.

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 it gets talky. Kudos to Theater Alliance for bringing Miss Gilman’s work here, but this production reduces a contemporary nightmare to the prosaic. Through Sunday 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 mini-extravaganza is fun for the family — 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 Sunday. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• 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, 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.

• Mamma Mia — Hippodrome Theatre — ***. This marshmallow fluff of a musical combines 22 golden oldies from the Swedish pop group ABBA with a love story set on a sunny Greek island. Two years ago it played the National Theatre and proved a shrill, derivative affair. But what a difference a cast makes. In Baltimore this time around it’s frisky and infectious, due mainly to some key casting changes. The over-amped, over-produced sound is shriekingly, painfully loud, but its day-glo visual pow and its exuberant performances make it worth the trip. Through May 30 at 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. 800/551-7328. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Passing the Love of Women — Theatre J — **1/2. Can an observant Jewish man 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 June 6 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. 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 Sunday. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Streetcar Named Desire — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — ***1/2. Patricia Clarkson, guided by Irish director Garry Hynes, proves a luminescent Blanche in this new production of Tennessee Williams’ 1947 play. Miss Clarkson finds the poetry and comedy in Mr. Williams’ words in a way no other actress in recent memory has done. Amy Ryan’s Stella is every bit as strong, and Adam Rothenberg gives a jocular, superbly physical portrayal of Stanley Kowalski. “Streetcar” is drenched in sex, and Miss Hynes’ staging emphasizes the sexual as a force that can thrill and destroy in equal measure. The sultriness of the production briefly turns to torpor in the second act, but the performances are searing. Through May 30. 202/467-4600. 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 Saturday at the Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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