- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

OPENING

• The Elephant Man — Catalyst Theatre Company. A deformed man searches for identity and acceptance in Victorian society. Opens tonight at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. 800/494-8497.

• A Tale of a Tiger — Rorschach Theatre. Left for dead on a battlefield, a Chinese soldier is seized by a tiger and her cub, and a unique relationship is forged. Opens Saturday at Calvary Methodist Church. 202/452-5538.

• The Time of Your Life — American Century Theater. The Pulitzer Prize-winning classic that explores the absurdity, irony and joy of human existence. Opens tonight at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782.

NOW PLAYING

• Betrayal — Fountainhead Theatre — **. Spare, cruel and mordantly funny, Harold Pinter’s plays need little adornment. They do need actors who can handle the rhythms and resonance of Mr. Pinter’s clipped, touchstone dialogue. That is why you question the choices of director Sarah Denhardt, who stages this distractingly accessorized production. Your first clue that the director is not comfortable with the material is the bouncy Beatles love tunes you hear while waiting for the show to start, as well as upbeat pop heartsongs from the 1970s and 1980s that punctuate every scene change. This is a play about a long-term adulterous affair between a man and a woman who happens to be married to the guy’s best friend, so the “all you need is love” sentiments of Lennon and McCartney seem woefully out of place. Through Saturday at Theatre on the Run. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Lenny & Lou — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. With Ian Cohen’s shocking epic, Woolly Mammoth pushes the envelope to scatological and sexually deviant new extremes. From graphic depictions of sex acts and partial nudity to salty language, smut and outrage, this play is an orgy of bad behavior. Yet at its heart it is a radical reaction to dealing with an aging parent whose mind is failing. What keeps you from feeling slimy is Tom Prewitt’s tight direction and expertly abandoned performances by Nancy Robinette as the kinky Brooklyn Jewish mother; Howard Shalwitz and Michael Russotto as her two middle-aged sons, Lenny and Lou; and Jennifer Mendenhall as Lenny’s lewdly hormonal Mafia princess wife, Julie. The play takes an energy dip in the second act, but for the most part, it delivers a sidesplitting and perverse look at familial love. Through Sept. 26 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• One Red Flower — Signature Theatre — **1/2. As might be expected from a musical about the Vietnam War, Paris Barclay’s play, inspired by the book “Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam,” leaves you rubbed raw. This new production, under the sure direction of Eric Schaeffer, is stunning. Mr. Barclay paints fervent musical portraits of six soldiers serving “in country” in 1969. The lyrics are based primarily on the actual words of the real-life soldiers. Their poems and letters home are by turns wistful, funny, despairing and always stippled with homesickness. The score relies on rock ‘n’ roll rhythms of the period. The superb cast creates lucid, emotionally resonant characters, and the play potently captures the wrath and harrowing ambiguity of a war that continues to disturb Americans. Through Oct. 3. 703/218-8500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Phantom of the Opera — Hippodrome Theatre — ***. The Andrew Lloyd Webber smash has haunted theaters for 16 years — and shows not a trace of tatter. In the current touring production, Harold Prince’s often magical staging is intact, as are Maria Bjornson’s lavish belle epoque sets and jewel-toned costumes. In fact, the musical’s evocation of the Paris Opera House in 1881 looks particularly fine in Baltimore’s newly restored Hippodrome Theatre, which was built at the turn of the 20th century. Cast cutbacks show at times, but the music is lush and over-the-top, and the 36-member cast attacks the musical with intensity and fervor. For the most part, “The Phantom’s” magic remains potent. Through Oct. 3 at 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. 800/889-8457. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Venus — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — ***1/2. Suzan-Lori Parks’ electrifying, free-form story of “the Hottentot Venus” — the South African woman Sarah Baartman, who was paraded around freak shows in 19th-century Europe, where people gawked at what they considered her outsized buttocks and genitalia — unfolds amid a hurly-burly atmosphere of musical vignettes, acrobatics, melodrama, slide shows and astute clowning. Sarah (a greatly compelling and sympathetic Chinasa Ogbuagu) becomes a “savage” in an iron cage who is not only ogled by the voyeuristic public but poked, prodded and examined by shady scientists and academics. Director Eve Muson’s Fellini-esque staging confronts the combustive subject matter full throttle, not even shying away from having certain characters appear in blackface. The production is bold and disturbing and is not for the priggish. Through Sept. 26. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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