- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

OPENING

• Betty Rules — Theatre J — The story of an up and coming, all-girl, three-piece, punk-rock trio from Fairfax. Opens Tuesday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497.

• Wicked — Kennedy Center Opera House — Long before Dorothy came to Oz, two other girls met in Munchkinland — one grows to become the Wicked Witch of the West and the other becomes Glinda the Good Witch. Opens Wednesday. 202/467-4600.

NOW PLAYING

• Beautiful Child — Didactic Theatre Company — **1/2, Nicky Silver’s play tries to balance manic comedy with the sobering, chilling story of an adult perversely in love with a child, and while some of the lines are indeed funny, it is difficult to reconcile the two. No degree of wit — and Mr. Silver is exceptional in the zingers department — can completely gloss over the “ick” factor inherent in the hero’s being a pedophile. Through Sunday at the Warehouse Theater. 202/249-0782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Comedy of Errors — The Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***1/2 Comic anarchy rules in this riotous production featuring surreal sets and silent-movie fantasy costumes. The design echoes director Douglas Wager’s vision of the play as a world where the familiar and knowable suddenly can give way to a mind-bending parallel universe where nothing is as it seems. So much of the play depends on the inventiveness of the actors and the mad extremes to which the director is willing to go. Mr. Wager stops at nothing, even having the Marx Brothers and Dali make an impromptu appearance in the antic second act. The production does not tax the intellect, but your funny bone will get a great workout. Through Jan. 8. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Cuttin’ Up — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — * Writer-director Charles Randolph-Wright fondly portrays the barbershop as the go-to place in the black community for news, history and fellowship. A hefty spritz of schmaltz accompanies the talcum powder in this warm and poetic look at a neighborhood institution, but a vibrant cast keeps the play from sinking into sitcom sudsiness. You may not look better after spending some time with the barbers at D.C.’s fictitious Howard’s Barbershop, but you will certainly feel better. Through Jan. 1. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Mame — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — * Has your tinsel lost its twinkle? Free-spirited auntie Mame (Cathy Mundy) and her cohorts in the whoopee-driven life will put you in the proper seasonal mood with this spry production of Jerry Herman’s musical about the jazz baby from the Roaring ‘20s who is determined to live each moment to the fullest. Mr. Herman’s music and lyrics shine with a sis-boom-bah brand of optimism that wins you over with their unremitting good cheer. The show is old-fashioned in structure, melody, and its drive to deliver a feel-good musical. No sense in resisting — old timey can be timeless, particularly during the holiday season. Through Feb. 19. 800/88TOBYS. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Starving — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — * This vibrantly acted world premiere of S.M. Shephard-Massat’s drama recalls the apartment building in Atlanta where her family lived in the 1950s and beyond. Its people, starving for sex, attention, and release from grief, live mini-dramas of adultery, drug addiction, rape, food poisoning, prison time, shady pasts, and shaky morals. The play’s dense monologues sometimes take flight with rich descriptive language but more often are over-written. Its heavy themes — color hierarchy in the black community, racism and sexual politics — are too much for any play to carry, much less this modest slice-of-life work. There’s too much bloat here for a play about people in deprivation and aching need. Through Sunday. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Year With Frog and Toad— Roundhouse Theatre — This delectable Tony-nominated family musical is based on Arnold Lobel’s four-book series about the lovable characters Frog and Toad, two unlikely friends who breeze through a year with a passel of animal friends in their natural habitat, rendered here as a lovely, Tiffany-stained-glass world by set designer Jos. B. Musumeci Jr. Robert Reale’s jazzy score, reminiscent of hit tunes from the 1930s and ‘40s, punctuates the vignettes with songs that are bursting with melody and brisk harmonies. The lyrics also recall the upbeat wit and rhyme of bygone eras and songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. Will Gartshore exudes leading-man charm and brio as Frog, singing the spry little ditties with such conviction you’d think they were Sondheim. Steve Tipton proves a perfect partner as Toad, his long legs and lovably downcast expressions giving the impression that he is more earthbound than his friend. Although there is nothing about the holiday season, save for the low-key ballad “Merry Almost Christmas,” the airiness and bouncing good cheer of “A Year With Frog and Toad” will put you in the mood. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Yemaya’s Belly — Signature Theatre — * This 85-minute Caribbean coming-of-age tale by Quiara Alegria Hudes centers on an orphaned boy who escapes from his island by boat with a girl, nearly perishing before being rescued by the Santeria sea goddess Yemaya. Listlessly directed by Rick DesRochers, the play quickly sinks into twee inertia. The heavy doses of magic realism are hard enough to endure, but “Yemaya’s Belly” is also bloated from a kind of preciousness you normally find in the most cloying of children’s theater. Through Sunday. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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