- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

OPENING

• An Experiment With an Air Pump — Journeyman Theater Ensemble. A dark comedy about the past and future of science and society and the moral dilemmas that can accompany scientific progress. Opens tomorrow at The Clark Street Playhouse. 202/248-2295.

• Fat Pig — Studio Theatre. Neil Labute’s comedy asks: In a culture obsessed with beauty, can love ever be blind? Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

• Monkeyboy — Charter Theater Company. Veronica has been cursed with a lifetime association with a cockatoo stricken with Tourette’s syndrome — until a stranger helps rid her of the aviary affliction. Opens Wednesday at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. 202/333-7009.

NOW PLAYING

• Alice — Kennedy Center Family Theater — * Whoopi Goldberg’s 1992 children’s book, adapted by playwright Kim Hines, hectically pastes hip-hop flourishes onto Lewis Carroll’s classic story. Money-minded Alice (Audra Alise Polk), who dreams every night about living large, travels to the Big City to claim a prize. Along the way, she and her two sidekicks meet unsavory characters — scam artists and petty thieves who give Alice drugs. Alice finally realizes that some things, such as friendship, are more important than a phat bank account and more bling than Snoop Dog. The set is simple and flexible, and the cast includes many solid Washington actors. However, the play itself is a base, graceless clunker that quickly wears out its welcome. Through Monday. 202/467-4600. 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 Dougles 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. 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 the District’s fictitious Howard’s Barbershop, but you certainly will feel better. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Damn Yankees — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — . The bubbly 1955 musical, about a middle-aged, rabid Washington Senators fan who sells his soul to the devil to get his team to win the pennant, is an exuberant throwback to a time of innocence. Arena artistic director Molly Smith gives us colorful, no-holds-barred choreography and high-spirited singing for a kicky, kitsch-y vision of the 1950s. If you’re willing to excuse the era’s dismissive treatment of any woman not a vamp, “Damn Yankees” can be terrific fun. Through Feb. 5. 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 resisting — old-timey can be timeless, particularly during the holiday season. Through Feb. 19. 800/88TOBYS. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Once on This Island — Centerstage — * Downtown Baltimore gets a welcome blast of tropical heat with this sun-struck musical production, a calypso variation on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” re-imagined by composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Inspired by Rosa Guy’s 1985 novel “My Love, My Love,” the story transplants the Andersen story to an island in the French Antilles, where its rueful romance is complicated by class differences and distinctions of skin color within the black community. The costumes, the music’s infectious island rhythms, and the affecting story combine to make the musical a parade that satiates the senses and the emotions. Through Jan. 22 at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Wicked — Kennedy Center Opera House — * Based on the 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, this Broadway smash making its District debut fleshes out the back story to “The Wizard of Oz,” revealing the unlikely bond between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba, the so-called Wicked Witch of the West. It brings to the task all the razzmatazz a musical can muster, which is more than enough to distract from its sundry flaws — a meandering book and lyrics packed with too much story. But these imperfections are sprinkled throughout the show like fairy dust and never bring it tumbling down. All performances are sold out. Through Jan. 15. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Christian Toto.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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