- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

OPENING

• The Lion King — France-Merrick Performing Arts Center. The Tony-winning production of the Disney cartoon, with music by Elton John and Tim Rice. Opens tonight at 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. 410/547-7328.

• Medea — Washington Shakespeare Company. Euripides’ story of the powerful enchantress betrayed by an unfaithful husband and the lengths to which she will go to satisfy her revenge. Opens Tuesday at the Clark Street Playhouse. 703/418-4808.

• The Sum of Us — Trumpet Vine Theatre Company. A homosexual man and his widowed father both struggle to navigate love’s difficult passage. Opens tonight at Theatre on the Run. 703/912-1649.

NOW PLAYING

• Anna Christie — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — ***1/2. There’s nothing remotely nostalgic in director Molly Smith’s ripely comic, ripsnorting take on the Eugene O’Neill play about the barge captain’s daughter with a damaged past who finds redemption at sea and a chance at a new life with a rescued Irish sailor. The production is vigorous and vibrantly crude. It sings with the crackle of 1920s city slang, the ragtime and jazz-baby rhythms inherent in Mr. O’Neill’s dialogue. Humor and tough-guy patois abound in both the male and female characters, adding to the play’s salty charms, and Sara Surrey attacks the role of Anna with great vigor. Through June 19. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Beauty and the Beast — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — * Disney’s Broadway musical is notorious for spectacle, but this small dinner theater captures its show-bizzy enchantment with ingenuity, economy, style and Broadway-caliber voices. This is decidedly kiddie fare, but adults, too, will respond favorably to the sophistication of the show’s lyrics and its message: Even the most beastly and odd among us can find love and acceptance. Through July 3. 301/596-6161. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Big Death & Little Death — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — **1/2. Mickey Birnbaum’s comically morbid play, set in the early ‘90s, gives us a dank world where two teenage siblings are into death metal music, futility, drugs and suburban angst. No one seems sane here; the adult authority figures are either trolling for sex, like mom before she died, or messing with your head, like dad, a Gulf War veteran gone bonkers. Director Howard Shalwitz tries valiantly to overcome the pitfalls in the script with a slew of theatrical whiz-bangs that depict the end of the universe, and more successfully with outstanding performances. Fortunately, Mr. Birnbaum has a way with gallows humor, so you often find yourself shocked into laughter. But there’s no way to cozy up to this. Through June 12. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hannah and Martin — Theatre J — . How much do we owe our teachers? This is the question for political philosopher Hannah Arendt in this striking and cerebral production of Kate Fodor’s searing play. The Jewish Miss Arendt’s mentor in classroom and bedroom was Martin Heidegger, the controversial thinker and Nazi sympathizer. The play centers on the combustive relationship between the two, and also on Miss Arendt’s post-war dilemma: Can she forgive him for his Nazi views, or would forgiveness let him off the hook? The juicy role of Hannah combines restless intellect and huge, physical rawness — and Elizabeth Rich inhabits every ravenous inch of it. Through Sunday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hecuba — Royal Shakespeare Company — **1/2. Euripides’ tragedy, written around 424 B.C., vividly charts the eternal effects of war, how no one is spared the atrocities of the battlefield. This stark production relies on a new, lean-and-mean translation by British poet Tony Harrison. With the Greeks the victors in the Trojan War, Troy is in ruins, its men slaughtered and its women, the Chorus, about to be taken to Greece. Hecuba, the former queen of Troy (Vanessa Redgrave in disheveled hair and sooty gown), can alone give action to their pain and avenge the death of her son and the sacrifice of her daughter. The Chorus, excellent throughout, lift their voices in scenes of astonishing beauty amid cruelties that are almost sadistic. But the acting, though solid, is not inspiring — and though Miss Redgrave’s Hecuba is impressive in diction and bearing, there is an icy, cold core that the audience is not welcome to penetrate. Through June 12 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Jason and the Argonauts — Synetic Theater — * The heroics and missteps of the Argonauts of Greco-Roman myth in their search for the Golden Fleece mostly take second billing here to the sorceress Medea, who enchants Jason and is in turn seized by a cursed love for him, which sets up the tragic denouement. The actors are sinuously in command of their body language, and Synetic deploys its trademark blend of eye-popping visuals and musical soundscape. But the dialogue is absurdly pompous — starchy mouthfuls uttered by people more glib with a visual vocabulary than with the written word. Through June 26 at the Rosslyn Spectrum. 703/824-8060. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Lend Me a Tenor — Olney Theater —***1/2 — It’s 1934 and the Cleveland Grand Opera Company has managed to persuade world-renowned tenor Tito Merelli (Paul Jackel) to star in its production of “Otello” and the company can’t let anything get in the way of its success — even when the superstar can’t perform. That’s when Max (John Scherer), the opera company’s lily-livered assistant, steps into his tights and the footlights, and in the process realizes his inner matinee idol. The result is dizzy, dizzy fun and director John Going and the cast never let the pace lag or opportunities for shameless mugging go by in this production of Ken Ludwig’s Tony-winning play. Through June 12 at Olney Theater. 301/924-3400 Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard

• Pacific Overtures — Signature Theatre — * This production’s hectic staging, under the direction of Eric Schaeffer, does little to make Stephen Sondheim’s 1976 musical about America’s encroachment into Japan in 1853 — a story of violent culture clash and a crumbling friendship between two men caught between tradition and modernization — more accessible or enjoyable. The cast and orchestra have been radically cut and the actors play multiple roles, hurrying on and off stage before you can get to know their characters. The musical sacrifices song for reams of dialogue and leaden aphoristic tales; you are absurdly relieved when a song comes along. And a smattering of solid production numbers isn’t enough to save it from sinking into a torpor of overthinking, overacting, and a general lack of lightness. Through July 3. 800/955-5566. 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 it sticks in the mind even more than the full nudity of the locker-room scenes. Through June 26. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Voysey Inheritance — Centerstage — * In Harley Granville Barker’s 1905 play, Trenchard Voysey Sr. runs an august British investment firm with a spotless reputation — except that he and his father before him have been defrauding customers. His son Edward is poised to inherit the firm, and the play details Edward’s ethical struggle and his efforts to put things right. The play feels dated and lugubrious, with leaden clouds of expository dialogue. It might have been provocative in 1905, but a century later it’s a one-note diatribe, airless and devoid of humor and humanity. Through Sunday at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033.

Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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