- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

OPENING

• Buratino — Classika Theatre. Alexey Tolstoy’s reworking of the “Pinocchio” story. Opens Saturday. 703/824-6200.

• A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas — Ford’s Theatre. Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale about Ebenezer Scrooge. Opens Tuesday. 202/347-4833.

• The Fever — Scena Theatre. A journey through guilt and confusion as a man collides with his conscience. Opens tomorrow at the Warehouse Theater. 703/684-7990.

• Movin’ Out — The National Theatre. A story told entirely in dance and song, featuring the music of Billy Joel. 8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Opens tomorrow. 800/447-7400.

• This Old Fairy Tale — Classika Theatre. A prince, pressured to marry by his parents, meets a princess who is sent from her kingdom for aid against an evil sorcerer. Opens Saturday. 703/824-6200.

• True West — The Keegan Theatre. Two brothers, one an Ivy-League educated Hollywood screenwriter, the other a hapless, cunning, petty thief, have a Southern California showdown in this dark comedy. Opens tonight at Clark Street Playhouse. 703/527-6000.

• Will Power’s Flow — Studio Theatre. Seven neighborhood storytellers come together for an evening of hip-hop, storytelling and music. Opens tomorrow. 202/332-3300.

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 Sunday. 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.

• The Highest Yellow — Signature Theatre — …1/2. One of the most glorious sights you’re apt to see on the musical stage this season is a naked man with a bloodied bandage wrapped around his ear, sitting in a bathtub and singing the rapturously beautiful title song in Michael John LaChiusa’s world premiere musical about the artist Vincent Van Gogh and his young attending physician, Dr. Felix Rey. This is a wild and harsh work, with a feverish and sometimes monstrous approach to the idea of obsession and a back-alley sensuality. Its score is exquisite and intense; its book, by local playwright John Strand, probes the nature of genius and madness and the difference between love and obsession with discriminating intelligence. Eric Schaeffer’s direction is nearly faultless and the performances are outstanding. The show is not perfect, but it shows glittering potential. It changes you, makes you see color and light and love with new eyes. Through Dec. 12. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Ivanov — Studio Theatre — ..1/2. This staging of a rarely performed, will-o’-the wisp Anton Chekhov play boasts immaculate performances by some of Washington’s finest actors, but the question is: Why bother? Raw and almost brattily controversial, written quickly on a dare in 1887, this play revolves around the moods of the title character, a broke landowner gripped by depression who flouts convention by marrying a Jewish woman and so becomes the focus of the entire community. It’s clearly an early play, plagued by sameness and cloying repetition; some scenes are mercilessly talky. The play gives Studio a chance to show off its spiffy new building, and newest stage, which is twice as tall as the older main theater. Set designer Russell Metheny makes the most of the newly ample room, and Helen Huang’s costumes look terrific. All of this talent might have been better lavished on a more satisfying play, but this production is notable for introducing us to a young Chekhov and the promise of brilliance to come. Through Dec. 12. 202/332-3300. 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 Sunday. 410/730-8311. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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