The Children’s Hour — Firebelly Productions. A malicious youngster starts an unfounded rumor about two women who run a school for girls. Opens tonight at Theatre on the Run. 703/409-2372.
The Royal Hunt of the Sun — The Washington Shakespeare Company. The Spanish conquistadors, led by a fanatical, disillusioned Francisco Pizarro, set out to conquer the majestic Inca empire in the name of God while on a quest for gold. Opens tonight at the Clark Street Playhouse. 703/418-4808.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane — Keegan Theatre — ***. A toxic relationship between an elderly woman and her middle-aged daughter in the west of Ireland is taken to grotesque and funny extremes in this highly charged production of Martin McDonagh’s play. Don’t expect charming, colorful storytellers. The people are loony, vindictive or majestically lazy. The humor, though abundant, is black. This is a macabre character study written with an acid-dipped pen — and because Mr. McDonagh seems to have no sympathy for his characters, neither does the audience. That means they can just sit back and savor the spectacle of them railing against the misery that is their lives. Through Saturday at the Church Street Theater. 703/527-6000. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Central Park West/Riverside Drive — Theater J — ***. These two one-act plays prove that Woody Allen may be an icon of urbane New York Jewish intellectualism, but beyond his image as a tweedy, bespectacled jazz buff who quotes Kirkegaard lurks a potty-mouthed clown just itching for a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down his pants. Zestily directed by Steven Carpenter, these find the playwright as funny and frantically neurotic as ever, with a gleefully randy side. The audience is convulsed with laughter. Through Sunday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
The Clean House — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. The astounding talent Sarah Ruhl and her sad yet strangely uplifting and funny play uses housecleaning as a metaphor for how people alienate themselves from their own lives. When a suburban nutcase, who finds spiritual meaning in cleaning, teams up to clean her preening sister’s house with the sister’s Brazilian cleaning lady, who prefers telling jokes to lifting a dust rag, all becomes tidy — until the sister’s surgeon husband leaves her for one of his patients, a magical and glowing woman who litters the house with flowers, fruit and glowing messes. Writing, staging, sets and acting combine with elements of magic realism, melodrama and absurdist comedy and will change forever the way you view dusting and Windex. Through Aug. 14. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Hairspray — Kennedy Center Opera House — ***1/2. The musical based on Baltimore native John Waters’ 1988 film comedy won eight Tonys on Broadway; now Washington finds out why. Can tubby Tracy Turnblad win a TV dance show’s “Miss Hairspray” contest, woo an Elvis wannabe and bring the races together on the dance floor? There’s never any doubt. The music is gleeful, the lyrics are witty, and the songs are bouncing. Comedian John Pinette, in drag, does a bravura turn as mother Edna Turnblad, prancing around as if every pound of his considerable frame were a blessing. The show retains enough of Mr. Waters’ snarky side to please his loyalists and bursts with everything else a musical-theater fan could wish for. Through Aug. 21. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Christian Toto.
The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow — Studio Theatre Secondstage — ***1/2. Rolin Jones’ clever and harrowing play centers on Jennifer Marcus, a young Californian adopted from China who is at once a computer genius and a mass of phobias that keep her from leaving her house. Longing to find her birth parents, she builds a robot she calls Jenny Chow, a thinking and feeling replica of herself that has no fears and can take the emotional and psychological journey involved in finding her mother. Most of the action unfolds before an (invisible) computer screen, but nothing sticks out as terribly odd because the comedy’s entire logic is goofy, a jumble of computer code, advanced physics and pop-culture references. At last, theater for the IM generation. Through Aug. 7. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
James and the Giant Peach — Imagination Stage — **1/2. Roald Dahl’s book about a lonely, mistreated boy who grows a magic peach that takes him from home in England to New York is a storybook favorite, and David Wood’s adaptation is workmanlike. But even good direction and an adept cast can’t overcome its pallid, forgettable songs; static staging; and clunky special effects. Much of the magic has gone missing. Through Aug. 14. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Lady Windermere’s Fan — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***. — Oscar Wilde’s satire of upper-class rules, his first comedy, shows him at his wittiest as a highborn and cosseted young lady is tempted to infidelity and snatched just in time from scandal and disgrace. The mannerly and genial production looks refined, elegant and moneyed. Directed like a well-executed dance step by Keith Baxter, it’s funny and glib but lacks the heart and unexpectedly touching nuances found in other productions. Through July 31. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
The Last Five Years — Metro Stage — ***1/2. Tracy Lynn Olivera and Jane Pesci-Townsend have teamed up for this intimate, affecting chamber musical that charts the arc of a marriage, from first kiss to breakup. Miss Pesci-Townsend directs expertly, and Miss Olivera plays the lead, an aspiring actress who falls in love with a wunderkind writer (Mark Bush). The couple tell their story from different angles and through song, pairing only once, at their wedding, for an impassioned duet. Otherwise, the musical is a searing “he said/she said” as the woman moves from devastated wife back to hopeful girlfriend and the man unravels from exultant wooer to spent husband. The conceit is an inspired one, lending a bittersweet air to a musical that could have been a conventional dissection of a modern relationship and marriage. Through Sunday. 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 all combine to make it that rarest of beasts, a perfect musical. Through Sept. 4 at 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. 410/547-7328. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Take Me Out — Studio Theatre — ***1/2. Richard Greenberg’s heart-shaped tribute to the diamond follows the seismic ups and downs of the fictional world champion New York Empires in a baseball season fraught with drama — as the team’s superstar center fielder reveals to the press that he is homosexual. The performances are excellent, but Rick Foucheux wins the MVP award for his exultant, endearing turn as a homosexual accountant and schlubby Johnny-come-lately baseball fan, a portrayal so memorable that it sticks in the mind even more than the full nudity of the locker-room scenes. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS