- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

OPENING

• After Ashley Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. —A teenager gets unwillingly thrust into the national spotlight after a family tragedy becomes talk-show fodder. Opens Monday. Sept. 53939.

• Metamorphosis — Catalyst Theatre Company. Steven Berkoff’s visceral adaptation of Kafka’s classic story; the play is a glimpse of a tortured soul struggling against the isolation of contemporary society. Opens today. 800/494-8497.

• Number — Studio Theatre. A heart-wrenching and complex relationship between a father and son lies at the heart of Caryl Churchill’s bold exploration of the personal cost of powerful new technology. Opens Wednesday 202/332-3300.

• Passion Play — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater. In this cycle of three plays, three historic tellings of the Passion play are the backdrop for up-and-coming playwright Sarah Ruhl’s bold examination of truth, love, loyalty and belief through the ages. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.



NOW PLAYING

• Gross Indecency — H Street Playhouse — ***1/2. Director Jeremy Skidmore’s audacious move casting Cooper D’Ambrose, a 21-year-old senior at North Carolina School of the Arts in the role of Oscar Wilde during the latter’s notorious trials in Victorian-era London, appears to have paid off. The famed playwright and aesthete was 42 when he defended himself against sexual perversion charges leveled at him by the father of his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Mr. D’Ambrose makes no attempt to look more mature for the role. His Wilde is anything but the jaded and dissolute character we have come to associate with the man who “feasted with panthers” and changed theater, literature and sexual politics forever with his devastating wit. Instead, there is a freshness to his portrayal, which brings unexpected vulnerability and poignancy to the production. “Gross Indecency” feels wordy and overstuffed at times and is often inundated with documents and historical facts, yet never loses sight of its subject, a man whose last years were haunted with exile and ruin but whose wit and brilliance glitter unvanquished to this day. Through Sept. 18, at 1365 H St. NE. 800/494-8497 Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Lion King — France-Merrick Performing Arts Center — ****. Director Julie Taymor’s brilliant stage adaptation of the Disney animated movie brings the entire African savanna to pulsing, heat-struck life through the use of African masks, headdresses, textiles and puppetry ranging from traditional marionettes and life-size animal figures to bunraku and shadow-puppet forms. The vibrantly beautiful musical is as visually and musically dazzling as it was when it premiered in 1997. Artistry, spectacle, a terrific score and a talented acting ensemble combine to make it that rarest of beasts, a perfect musical. Through Sunday at 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. 410/547-7328. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Miracle Worker — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **1/2. Olney opens its splendid new Mainstage theater with a perfectly respectable production of William Gibson’s 1959 play, starring adult actress Carolyn Pasquantonio as the blind and deaf Helen Keller as a child and MaryBeth Wise as her fiery, opinionated young teacher Annie Sullivan. The battle of wits between teacher and pupil is sometimes dynamic, but Miss Pasquantonio is a bit too mature to be convincing as a child monstrously frustrated by her limitations. The same goes for Miss Wise, who projects sophistication and wisdom when, in fact, Annie was not much more than a girl herself. The whole idea of two young people leading each other to knowledge gets lost. You never get the sense of a deep, symbiotic connection between Helen and Annie, and so much of the emotional intimacy is compromised. Through Sept. 11. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Sand Storm: Stories from the Front — Metrostage — **. A sense of patriotism and duty — coupled with outrage over the war and confusion after his return to the United States — compelled former Marine Sean Huze to write an affecting and difficult play consisting of 10 short monologues in the voices of men who served in the Iraq war. Mr. Huze seems to have been particularly affected by the civilian casualties; nearly every vignette describes the gruesome deaths of Iraqi people. The depictions are shockingly visceral, but since nearly every monologue depicts a civilian casualty, the impact is greatly diminished. Brett Smock’s direction is adequate, the 11-member cast varies intensely in acting prowess, ranging from inspired to hammily histrionic. “The Sand Storm” does not lack in forceful images of soldiers in combat. You just wish it were a better-constructed piece of theater, one that probed deeper into the paradox of how a man can be a proud soldier and also someone ashamed of what he has seen and done in the heat of battle. Through Sept. 25 at 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. 800/494-8497 Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard

• Urinetown — Signature Theatre — ****. Rife with parody and spoofs of theatrical conventions, “Urinetown” borrows from the social dramas of the 1930s to depict a bedraggled Depression-era city where a long drought has resulted in the monopolization of public amenities by big-business. Home plumbing has been banned, hence citizens’ bladders are controlled by the villainous Caldwell B. Cladwell (Christopher Bloch) and his UGC Corp. (which stands for “Urine Good Company”). When a muscular custodian Bobby Strong (Will Gartshore) decides to give everyone the urination liberation they deserve, townsfolk rally in dance and song. There’s plenty to howl over in director Joe Calarco’s innovative approach to the show. He and choreographer Karma Camp cram the musical numbers with wicked homages to “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Evita” with grisly and gorgeous staging reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” The players are almost absurdly talented, at the top of their game both vocally and as actors. Through Oct. 16 at 3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington. 800/955-5566 Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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