- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2005

OPENING

• Leading Ladies Ford’s Theatre—. Two down-on-their luck Shakespearean actors concoct a plan to swindle an elderly woman by posing as her long-lost relatives. Opens tomorrow.9/23347-4833.

NOW PLAYING

• After Ashly— Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company— *** tar Playwright and D.C. native Gina Gionfriddocq delves into our fascination with the preyed-upon in this brashly funny, disquieting play. Ashley Hammond, the wife of a Washington newspaper reporter and mother of a resentful 14-year-old, is brutally raped and murdered by a man hired to do yardwork. Her son’s excruciating call to 911 makes him a celebrity, and her husband’s heart-tugging book, “After Ashley,” becomes a best-seller and springboard to a TV show with “tasteful” re-enactments of the crimes, which Ashley’s husband hosts. The play vividly satirizes a society that claims to be horrified by violence, yet fetishizes its images. It’s overwritten and mines the same angry territory over and over again, but the characters are compelling and the agile cast members adds nuance to their roles. Through Oct. 16. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• — The Disputation— ** Theatre J2stars Playwright and scholar Hyam Maccoby’scq costume drama dramatizes the Barcelona Disputation of 1263, a four-day confrontation between a Christian and a Jewish thinker at a time when lurid stereotypes about Jews ran rampant. The meeting, set up at the urging of Pope Urban IV, pitted the outspoken Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman (Theodore Bikel) against Pablo Christiani (Edward Gero), a Jew who became a Catholic and a Dominican friar. The pope hoped that the Christian arguments would be so convincing that masses of Jews would convert. Director Nick Olcott brings force and conviction to the debate scenes, but though the play engages on the intellectual level it is largely inert dramatically. And stacked as it is against Christianity, its one-sidedness makes it as missionary-minded as the religious extremists it purports to criticize. Through Oct. 2 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.• — Flyin’ West ***e olors Theatre Company— — Pearl Cleage’scqq hard-minded play about black pioneer women who left slavery and the South for a new, freer life in places like Nicodemus, Kan., gets a strong and sassy production from True Colors. The women-driven show does not flinch from the callused realities these female homesteaders faced. It takes an unflinching look one leavened with plainspoken humor at emotional and physical abuse, slavery, color-hierarchy and racism among black Americans. These women bear all of this and more with eloquence and strength. You cannot fail to be inspired by their stories and by this handsome, heartfelt production. Through SundaySept. 25.— at the Lincoln Theater, 1215 U Street, NW. $29-$50. 202/328-6000. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard—.

• A Number Studio Theatre —***—1/2.three andone half starsBritish playwright Caryl Churchill has a way of making the familiar frightening. A night-terror quality grips her newest work and lends the cliche “a chip off the old block” a threatening aura as the seedy Englishman Salter (Ted van Griethuysen) breaks it to his anguished son Bernard (Tom Story) that he, Bernard, is a clone, cooked up in a Petri dish after Salter’s “original” son supposedly died. Moreover, there is not one, but at least 20 Bernards running around — and Salter meets many of them. The virtuoso actors, directed with ferocious economy by Joy Zinoman, do a nimble dance the elder fascinated and repelled by what he has made, the younger longing for identity and yet a breed apart from his creator. It’s a profound and confounding play that makes you question modern technologies and new societies seeking to “improve” on old ways of being. Through Oct. 16. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard—

• The Shakespeare Theatre ***.— In this emotionally charged new production, expertly directed by Michael Kahn, stars Avery Brooks and Patrick Page break new ground with their unconventional interpretations. Mr. Brooks’ brave portrayal of Othello is deep and comprehensive, adding sophistication and touching vulnerability to a seemingly two-dimensional character. Mr. Page as Iago conjures forth the icy instincts of a true psychopath, a loveless, guiltless individual caring little for the death and mayhem left in his wake. The ensemble cast adds notable heft. The result is a superb opening act for the company’s 2005-2006 season. Through Oct. 30. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.—

*** y, a Cycle—— — Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage • . Young playwright Sarah Ruhl uses productions of the Passion Play from three different epochs Elizabethan England, 1934 Germany and the late-20th-century American Midwest — as a frame to explore the inherent theatricality in politics and religion in this world-premiere three-play work. Molly Smith directs with a flair for both religious pomp and carnival-style hurly-burly, providing a potent visual stew of iconic and startlingly original imagery. Set designer Scott Bradley echoes traditional biblical and religious art in the use of the tableaux. The actors dive into the multiple permutations of their roles with relish, and all are superb. Robert Dorfman’s deft impersonations of famous figures Queen Elizabeth I, Adolf Hitler and Ronald Reagan — are electrifying. The first two parts of the cycle are satisfying, but the third seems unfinished and raw, making the whole little more than a passing parade of human history, one that is all performance, no soul. Through Oct 16. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• and Storm: Stories from the Front —age **—. A sense of patriotism and duty — coupled with outrage over the war and confusion after his return to the United States compelled former Marine Sean Huze to write an affecting and difficult play consisting of 10 short monologues in the voices of men who served in the Iraq war. Mr. Huze seems to have been particularly affected by the civilian casualties; nearly every vignette describes the gruesome deaths of Iraqi people. The depictions are shockingly visceral, but since nearly every monologue depicts a civilian casualty, the impact is greatly diminished. While Brett Smock’s direction is adequate, the 11-member cast varies intensely in acting prowess, ranging from inspired to hammily histrionic. “The Sand Storm” does not lack in forceful images of soldiers in combat. You just wish it were a better-constructed piece of theater, one that probed deeper into the paradox of how a man can be a proud soldier and also someone ashamed of what he has seen and done in the heat of battle. Through Sunday00/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard

• Urinetown — Signature Theatre ****. Rife with parody and spoofs of theatrical conventions, “Urinetown” borrows from the social dramas of the 1930s to depict a bedraggled Depression-era city where a long drought has resulted in the monopolization of public amenities by Big Business. Home plumbing has been banned, hence citizens’ bladders are controlled by the villainous Caldwell B. Cladwell (Christopher Bloch) and his UGC Corp. (which stands for “Urine Good Company”). When muscular custodian Bobby Strong (Will Gartshore) decides to give everyone the urination liberation they deserve, townsfolk rally in dance and song. There’s plenty to howl over in director Joe Calarco’s innovative approach to the show. He and choreographer Karma Camp cram the musical numbers with wicked homages to “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” and “Evita” with grisly and gorgeous staging reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” The players are almost absurdly talented, at the top of their game both vocally and as actors. Through Oct. 9. 800/955-5566 Reviewed by Jayne BlanchardMAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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