- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

OPENING

• Carousel — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. Billy Bigelow, a traveling carnival man, and Julie Jordan, a local factory worker, fall in love in this musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Opens Tuesday. 301/924-3400.

• The Importance of Being Earnest — Fichandler Theater, Arena Stage. Four lovers find themselves snared in romantic entanglements with one another in this Oscar Wilde play. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

• Pericles — The Shakespeare Theatre. Shakespeare’s tale of a tyrant king, a wicked stepmother, a young heroine and pirates. Opens Monday. 202/547-1122.

• Titus Andronicus — Washington Shakespeare Company. Roman war hero Andronicus takes on the she-wolf Tamara, queen of the Goths, in Shakespeare’s blood-soaked tale of vengeance. Opens tonight at Clark Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497.

• A Tuna Christmas — Warner Theatre. Comedians Joe Sears and Jaston Williams portray all 24 residents of Texas’ third-smallest town. Opens Tuesday. 202/397-SEAT.

• The Two Gentlemen of Verona — Folger Theatre. Brotherly love battles romantic love in Shakespeare’s exploration of how far people will go over matters of the heart. Opens tonight. 202/554-7077.

NOW PLAYING

• Anna in the Tropics — Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage — ****. The catalyst of Nilo Cruz’s voluptuous Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the startling effect words have on a group of Cuban-American cigar-factory workers in Florida in the 1920s is Juan Julian (the princely Jason Manuel Olazabal). The plant’s new “lector,” who reads aloud to the workers as they bunch tobacco and roll cigars, chooses the bodice-ripper “Anna Karenina” as his first effort, unaware of how this book will ignite passions both grand and violent in the men and women. The play is an orgy of language, with metaphors that accrete like the finest silk lingerie. The actors capture the tone perfectly. Sometimes the prose gets purplish, but for the most part, you just lie back and think of Cuba. Through Nov. 21. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Bad Friend — Theatre J —** . The days of the Cold War, Red scares, Stalin, Marxist doctrine at the dinner table and McCarthyism are evoked in this dreary retro portrait of a family of American communists in the 1950s. Written by satirist and cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who based the play on his own youthful experiences with a family friend who turned out to be a Soviet spy, “The Bad Friend” shows vestiges of feisty humor and an intimate, bracing knowledge of what it must have been like to grow up in a lovingly combative leftist New York family. Yet Theater J’s production, under the direction of the usually solid Nick Olcott, is a largely humorless harangue — more politics than poetry. Through Nov. 30 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 202/777-3229. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Grace — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***. Born-again Christianity gets a drubbing in Craig Wright’s intense and funny play about the peril of prayer. The play loops backward from a violent domestic crime; its focus is a young born-again couple — he a would-be wheeler-dealer who mixes business with saving souls, and she a humble soul alone in their Florida condo, isolated and terrified. “Grace” bristles with ideas about religion, violence and the metaphysics of love, and what can be stereotyped, is. Director Michael Garces’ fast-moving staging emphasizes the seamy side of faith, which is great fun but shortchanges the beauty and spiritual power of religion. The play unfortunately takes a predictably dark turn when the husband goes postal on his wife and everyone else in his path, and its banal, Quentin Tarantino-esque resolution is unworthy of the play’s earlier philosophical and meditative feel. Through Dec. 19 at the Warehouse Theater. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Miss Saigon — Toby’s Dinner Theatre —**** . The Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil musical incited controversy when it debuted in 1991, with its combination of soaring music and caustic, cynical commentary on both the French and American involvement in Vietnam. In this production at Toby’s space-strapped theater-in-the-round, director Toby Orenstein concentrates on casting the best voices and talent she can find. And as with last year’s big-budget, big-cast staging of “Ragtime,” Toby’s accomplishes what is seemingly impossible: transferring an expensive and highly technical Broadway show to a smaller dinner-theater venue without relinquishing style and emotional impact. Through Nov. 21. 410/730-8311. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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