- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

OPENING

• Alexa’s Necklace Natural Theatricals. —A riled woman taps into her wild imagination to deal with her child’s death. Opens tomorrow. Sept. 99338.

• Camille — Round House Theatre. One of the world’s great love stories and the inspiration for Verdi’s operatic masterpiece “La Traviata.” This new adaptation returns to the original novel for its shockingly frank and powerfully emotional portrayal of a woman who can afford everything — except to fall in love. Opens Wednesday. 240/644-1100.

• It Had To Be You — American Century Theater. This two-person play tells an unusual show-biz story. She is a desperate B-actress of a certain age; he is a successful commercial television producer. She holds him captive in her apartment, swearing not to let him go until he is a) in love with her; and b) willing to jump-start her career. Opens tonight. 703/553-8782.

• Top Girls — Fountainhead Theater. A funny and provocative look at the personal sacrifices a woman makes to achieve success not only in the late 20th century, but over the last 1,200 years. Opens tonight. 703/553-8782.

NOW PLAYING

• Gross Indecency — H Street Playhouse — ***1/2. Director Jeremy Skidmore’s audacious move casting Cooper D’Ambrose, a 21-year-old senior at North Carolina School of the Arts in the role of Oscar Wilde during the latter’s notorious trials in Victorian-era London, appears to have paid off. The famed playwright and aesthete was 42 when he defended himself against sexual perversion charges leveled at him by the father of his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and Mr. D’Ambrose makes no attempt to look more mature for the role. His Wilde is anything but the jaded and dissolute character we have come to associate with the man who “feasted with panthers” and changed theater, literature and sexual politics forever with his devastating wit. Instead, there is a freshness to his portrayal, which brings unexpected vulnerability and poignancy to the production. “Gross Indecency” feels wordy and overstuffed at times and is often inundated with documents and historical facts, yet never loses sight of its subject, a man whose last years were haunted with exile and ruin but whose wit and brilliance glitter unvanquished to this day. Through Sept. 18. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Miracle Worker — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **1/2. Olney opens its splendid new Mainstage theater with a perfectly respectable production of William Gibson’s 1959 play, starring adult actress Carolyn Pasquantonio as the blind and deaf Helen Keller as a child and MaryBeth Wise as her fiery, opinionated young teacher Annie Sullivan. The battle of wits between teacher and pupil is sometimes dynamic, but Miss Pasquantonio is a bit too mature to be convincing as a child monstrously frustrated by her limitations. The same goes for Miss Wise, who projects sophistication and wisdom when, in fact, Annie was not much more than a girl herself. The whole idea of two young people leading each other to knowledge gets lost. You never get the sense of a deep, symbiotic connection between Helen and Annie, and so much of the emotional intimacy is compromised. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Sand Storm: Stories from the Front — Metrostage — **. 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 Sept. 25. 800/494-8497. 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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