- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NOW PLAYING

• Cuttin’ Up Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater— —.***Three Starsctor 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.

• For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again — Metro Stage — ***. Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay’s autobiographical work is an unabashedly loving tribute to his late mother, to whom he credits his thirst for the dramatic. The narrator (Bruce M. Holmes) tells the story of life with the earthy and effervescent Nana (Catherine Flye), from the time he was 10 to Nana’s later years. Nana was a skilled storyteller who could make a trip to the grocery store seem like a five-act Greek tragedy, and Miss Flye is an ideal fit. With her loopy, expressive body language and hectic delivery, she can sell a story like nobody’s business. The play is about how imagination conjures worlds far beyond experience. Through Sunday. 703/548-9044. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Guantanamo — Studio Theatre — **. Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo’s unsubtly political play is based on spoken evidence, personal letters and interviews concerning four British Muslim detainees held for years at the U.S. naval base in Cuba because of bizarre or trumped-up circumstances. The play interweaves their stories with those of their anguished families and also features pop-ups from Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, various human rights attorneys, British politicians and U.S. military personnel. It continues the trend of “documentary theater” that spoon-feeds the audience prescribed responses from the placard school of drama: “America stinks.” The stories and performances shake you to the core, but even this issue becomes less gripping when presented as unmitigated agitprop. Through Dec. 11. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hay Fever — Centerstage — ***. Noel Coward remembers his friend, the American actress Laurette Taylor, through the character of Judith Bliss — a combination of Mommie Dearest and Auntie Mame — and expands his recollections into an entire family of indulgent Bohemians living in a country house as elegantly wacky as they are. In this perfectly unhinged production, Judith is an unmitigated delight — and so is the rest of the show. Through Dec. 4 at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.



• Much Ado About Nothing — Folger Theatre — ***. Director Nick Hutchinson has moved the setting of Shakespeare’s play from Italy to an English manor house immediately following World War II. He also takes a more unorthodox approach to the warring couple Beatrice and Benedict, discarding the cliche that they have always had a crush on each other. Here, theirs is a darker journey, from heartbreak and stubborn defensiveness to the discovery that perhaps they are not as brittle as they imagined. This is one of Shakespeare’s most effortlessly witty plays, and this handsome and affecting new production makes the most of the humor. Through Sunday. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• String Fever — Theater J — ***. Jacquelyn Reingold’s urban farce about a music teacher searching for meaning in life as she faces her 40th birthday — and finding string theory, the idea that the universe is made up of interlaced filaments, strands that are the smallest particles in existence — is disarming and sharply observant. It’s a combination of zany, TV-style characters and enough brain-teasing to make the audience feel smart. The play is fragmented at times, resulting in episodes of wildly varying energy levels. Even the set seems disjointed, and some of the characters do not seem organic to the piece. Yet the comedy sometimes crackles with off-kilter humor and insight. Through Sunday. 800/494-TIXS. 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 Dec. 18. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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