- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

OPENING

• The Caucasian Chalk Circle — Round House Theatre Silver Spring. Brecht’s parable of two villages in a post-war era that touches upon the nature of parenthood, power, and community. Opens tomorrow. 240/644-1100.

• Crowns — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater. Regina Taylor’s musical adaptation of Craig Mayberry and Michael Cunningham’s book about the “hat queens” of the South. Opens Tuesday. 202/488-3300.

• The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow — Studio Theatre Secondstage. Jennifer Marcus and her robot replica, “Jenny Chow,” face off when she discovers that her creation has a mind of its own. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

NOW PLAYING

• 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 Sunday. 301/596-6161. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Emperor Jones — American Century Theater — ***1/2. Eugene O’Neill’s 1921 play charts the downfall of Brutus Jones, who went from “stowaway to emperor in two years,” and presides over an island in the West Indies. Cast from the throne, he escapes into the night jungle, where he stumbles upon images of sin and evil, of witchcraft and magic, of the darkness clouding his own soul. Director Ed Bishop turns the generic space into the humid tropics through lighting design, set and unnerving sound effects, combining these with stylized dance and movement to give us an outstanding production that glows like an island jewel. Through July 23 at Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. 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, as an aspiring actress who falls in love with a wunderkind writer (Mark Bush). The couple tells their story from different angles and through song, only pairing 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 an 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 July 24. 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 savannah to pulsing, heat-struck life through the use of African masks, headdresses, textiles and puppetry ranging from traditional marionettes and life-sized 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.

• Medea — Washington Shakespeare Company — * This strangely strained and uninvolving production of Euripides’ tale of how rage can overwhelm reason takes a calculated, psychological approach to the classic Greek tragedy of a wronged woman. Instead of passion we get pallid analysis. Set and lighting are striking, and the plainspoken, stark poetry of Alistair Elliot’s translation is a wonder. Yet without a strong Medea, the play flounders, and Delia Taylor’s schizo approach to the character — a keening mess one moment, a tough-minded harpy the next — suggests she is still searching for Medea’s motivations, and so the audience is cast adrift. The production ultimately does not provide gripping insights into the baser regions of human nature. Through Sunday at the Clark Street Playhouse. 703/418-4808. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Once on This Island — Round House Theatre Bethesda — * This swirling, stirring production of the 1990 Lynn Ahrens-Stephen Flaherty musical, directed with spirit and a sense of spirituality by Scot Reese, is set on a French-Caribbean island — but it’s no mindless trip to the beach. Serious overtones of social prejudice, the caste system and color hierarchy cast fingery shadows across the sunny show, but never overwhelm the Caribbean rhythms of the music or the tingle of the central love story, that of a peasant girl who falls in love with a handsome member of the ruling class. If you’re longing for an island breeze, this is it. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100. 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 10. 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 July 17. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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