Russian Readings — Studio Theatre Secondstage. Readings of new plays from some of the best new Russian playwrights. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.
Living Out — Round House Bethesda — ***. Playwright Lisa Loomer’s latest work, a disquieting drama masquerading as comedy, takes on the prickly, singular relationship between elite L.A. mothers and immigrant nannies. As high-powered entertainment lawyer Nancy (Holly Twyford) takes on a new Salvadoran nanny, Ana (Joselin Reyes), the two worlds collide in a downbeat and guilt-struck ending to a play previously filled with insight and bristling humor. It’s brightly and tartly staged under the direction of Wendy C. Goldberg, and the acting is top-notch throughout. This story of two women stretches out to larger issues about race, privilege, citizenship and belonging. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
M. Butterfly — Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage — ***1/2. David Henry Hwang’s Tony-winning play is based on a true-life scandal, the affair between a French diplomat in China and a Chinese opera singer who was not just a man, but a spy. Mr. Hwang’s deft deconstruction of the stereotypes Westerners hold about Eastern culture remains powerful and wrenching. However, the play is on its firmest footing when dealing with the blurred edges of sexuality, male fantasies and domination versus submission. Stephen Bogardus gives a gentle, restrained portrayal of the hapless protagonist, while newcomer J. Hiroyuki Liao as the spy holds a viewer spellbound with stylized gestures and graceful bows that are almost absurdly feminine. Through Oct. 17. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Macbeth — The Shakespeare Theatre — **. “Macbeth” charts the trajectory of the former “brave knight” (Patrick Page) who quickly goes from hailed loyal nobleman to reviled psychopathic tyrant after he is seized by a “vaulting ambition” — the result of the weird sisters’ prophecy and some shrewd goading by his wife (Kelly McGillis). Sets, shadow play and costumes make this a dazzling production. Beyond the purely visual, it’s respectable but not greatly involving. With its cool, modern Danish sensibilities, this staging presents a portrait of ruthless ambition that attracts the eye but gives emotions the brush-off. Through Oct. 24. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
The Matchmaker — Ford’s Theatre — **. Embracers of modernism might find Thornton Wilder’s play — set in the 1880s, written in 1954 and the basis for the hit musical and movie “Hello, Dolly!” — redolent of mothballs. It’s sweet and well-intentioned, but full of drab spots that make the show gently narcotic. The widow Dolly Levi (Andrea Martin), an amiable but entrepreneurial busybody and matchmaker, sets up the lively milliner Irene Molloy (Sarah Zimmerman) with Horace Vandergelder (Jonathan Hadary), a miserly dry-goods scion from Yonkers, then decides she wants Horace for herself. Miss Martin is a gifted comedian; her Dolly is bossy and outsized, with a love of life. As Horace, Mr. Hadary has the bluster down pat but appears more uncertain in expressing the character’s vulnerabilities. There are some winning parts but few creative, unexpected moments. The play is sturdily nostalgic but hardly transcendent. Through Oct. 24. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
The Russian National Postal Service — Studio Theatre —***. This 85-minute play by Oleg Bogaev, 34, a black-humored playwright from the “new Russia,” bracingly kicks off Studio Theatre’s season-long salute to Russian playwrights and authors. It’s a bleak look at a lonely widower who has no vital place in post-Soviet Russia and spends his days writing letters to world figures such as Queen Elizabeth II, Lenin and Stalin. Floyd King, a master of physical comedy, does a bravura turn as the retiree, imbuing the role with gentle comedic shadings and a dexterous touch of melancholy. His pen pals, who crowd his apartment as he drifts in and out of sleep, are deftly drawn. Through Oct. 17. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
The Seagull — Rep Stage — ***. Playwright Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s classic is spirited, direct and a tragicomedy in the ripest sense of the word. This production, under the direction of Kasi Campbell, takes full advantage of the liveliness with an assured, masterful cast and staging that is moody without melancholy. Rep Stage has given us a spellbinding “Seagull” that invites us to ponder the nature of love in all its permutations. Through Oct. 10 at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
The Time of Your Life — American Century Theater — * Playwright William Saroyan was known for his schmaltz and salty patter, and this amiable masterpiece, written in 1939, is no exception. Set in a waterfront dive in San Francisco, it’s a big, booming stew of ideas, pedagogy and love of man that boozily celebrates survival, idealism and personal freedom. It would be grand to bask in its sentiment and bravura language, but this production’s large cast never gels as an ensemble. The actors trip over their lines, speak on top of one another or deliver themselves of leaden silences. Wit and whimsy fall flat, compromising the warm, sprawling quality of a Saroyan play. A Saroyan revival may be what this country needs, but this woebegone production will do little to spur it. Through Saturday at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS