- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

OPENING

• Les Miserables National Theatre—. Tony-winning musical that travels through three turbulent decades of 19th-century France. Through Jan. 21. 202/628-6161.

NOW PLAYING

• The Comedy of Errors The Shakespeare Theatre Company – ***1/23 and a half stars in this riotous production featuring surreal sets and silent-movie fantasy costumes that seem to have wandered off the set of a Cecil B. DeMille epic. 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. So much of the play depends on the inventiveness of the actors and the mad extremes to which the director is willing to go. Happy to report that Mr. Wager stops at nothing, even having the Marx Brothers and Dali make an impromptu appearance in the antic second act. Floyd King has a priceless cameo as the roly-poly quack conjurer Doctor Pinch whose facial expressions and cheesy magic tricks make the second act almost unbearably funny. 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 D.C.’s fictitious Howard’s Barbershop, but you will certainly feel better. Through Jan. 1. 202/488-3300. 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 Sunday at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Starving — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — **. This vibrantly acted world premiere of S.M. Shephard-Massat’s drama recalls the apartment building in Atlanta where her family lived in the 1950s and beyond. Its people, starving for sex, attention, and release from grief, live mini-dramas of adultery, drug addiction, rape, food poisoning, prison time, shady pasts and shaky morals. The play’s dense monologues sometimes take flight with rich descriptive language but more often are over-written. Its heavy themes — color hierarchy in the black community, racism and sexual politics — are too much for any play to carry, much less this modest slice-of-life work. There’s too much bloat here for a play about people in deprivation and aching need. Through Dec. 18. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Year With Frog and Toad— Roundhouse Theatre — **** The delectable Tony-nominated family musical, is based on Arnold Lobel’s four-book series about the lovable characters Frog and Toad, two unlikely friends who breeze through a year with a passel of animal friends in their natural habitat, rendered here as a lovely, Tiffany-stained-glass world by set designer Jos. B. Musumeci Jr. Robert Reale’s jazzy score, reminiscent of hit tunes from the 1930s and 1940s, punctuates the vignettes with songs that are bursting with melody and brisk harmonies. The lyrics also recall the upbeat wit and rhyme of bygone eras and songwriters such as Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. Will Gartshore exudes leading-man charm and brio as Frog, singing the spry little ditties with such conviction you’d think they were Sondheim. Steve Tipton proves a perfect partner as Toad, his long legs and lovably downcast expressions giving the impression that he is more earthbound than his friend. Although there is nothing about the holiday season, save for the low-key ballad “Merry Almost Christmas,” the airiness and bouncing good cheer of “A Year With Frog and Toad” will put you in the mood. Through Dec. 18. 240/644-1100. 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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