- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

OPENING

• Dame Edna, Back with a Vengeance — The National Theatre. Barry Humphries’ Dame Edna Everage, “international megastar,” brings her musical/talk show back to Washington. Opens Tuesday. 202/737-5983.

• The Price — Fountainhead Theatre. Two long-estranged brothers meet in their dead father’s attic to dispose of his belongings, and reopen old wounds in this Arthur Miller classic. Opens tonight at Theater on the Run. 703/920-5923.

NOW PLAYING

• Awake and Sing! — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — **. Zelda Fichandler, founding artistic director at Arena Stage, has returned to the District to direct this Clifford Odets classic of a first-generation Jewish-American family in the Bronx as it struggles through the Depression. She has assembled a superior cast headed by Robert Prosky as the family’s waning patriarch. But the Odets message that capitalism is dead lends a quaint Bolshevik air to the play and results in a lot of windy, stagy speechifying. Take away the left-wing proselytizing and what’s left is a drearily commonplace ethnic family drama. Through March 5. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Don Juan — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***. Director Stephen Wadsworth, using his own new, brashly conversational adaptation/translation of Moliere’s comedy, floridly attempts to recapture the anxious bluster of that opening night in Paris on Feb. 15, 1665, when Moliere’s company performed it before King Louis XIV. Scandal and suppression followed, but not because of the sex. It was Don Juan’s libertine mind that flipped everyone’s periwigs. The staging is beautiful, the costumes and lighting opulent, the performances devilishly good. But Mr. Wadsworth’s histrionic production emphasizes extremes and ends up compromising the subtlety and charm of Moliere’s play. Through March 19. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Fat Pig — Studio Theatre — ****. Neil LaBute’s play confronts our attitudes toward weight and appearance with blistering honesty and wit. It’s almost unheard of for a big woman to be seen in a sexual context, but here smart, appealing, plus-size Helen (Kate Debelack) gets the guy, a buff, successful executive named Tom (Tyler Pierce) — and gets steamy boudoir scenes as well. Mr. LaBute holds up the cliches “love is blind” and “looks aren’t everything” to almost unbearable scrutiny. And under the disgusted, ruthless gazes of Tom’s friends, this love doesn’t stand a chance. Through March 12. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Mame — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. Has your tinsel lost its twinkle? Free-spirited auntie Mame (Cathy Mundy) and her cohorts in the whoopee-driven life will put you in the proper mood with this spry production of Jerry Herman’s musical about the jazz baby from the Roaring 20s who is determined to live each moment to the fullest. Through Sunday. 800/88TOBYS. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Measure for Measure — Folger Theatre — ***. Shakespeare’s labyrinthine plot revolves around the contradictions arising when those who legislate morality for others arrogantly deny their own moral failings. The production itself is a discordant amalgam of art deco backdrops, bizarre, allusively symbolic costuming and occasionally ineffective musical interludes. Happily, it usually works. And the acting is first-rate, abetted by an inspired decision to cast minor characters and disguised principals as nearly life-sized commedia dell’arte-style puppets. Through Feb. 26. 202/554-7077. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.

• Midwives — Round House Theatre Bethesda — **. Dana Yeaton’s platitudinous adaptation of Chris Bohjalian’s best-selling novel — of a woman recalling the tragedy that befell her mother, a midwife, who was tried for involuntary manslaughter after she performed an emergency Caesarean with a kitchen knife on a patient she mistakenly thought had died — takes a crisp medical cliffhanger and makes it into a maudlin weeper, a fuzzy-wuzzy tale of reconciliation between mother and daughter as mom is about to die. It has too much heart and not enough pulse. Through Feb. 26. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Murder of Isaac — Centerstage — **. Too controversial to be produced in his native country, Israeli playwright Motti Lerner’s ferociously political drama explores religious and xenophobic zealotry, the tyranny of war and peace, and whether we fear God or condemn him, within the confines of a hospital ward in Israel specializing in post-traumatic stress disorders. This U.S. premiere introduces American audiences to a vivid, imaginative voice, but the play is assaultive rather than challenging, with a stridency that ultimately estranges the audience. Through March 12 at 700 North Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/986-4008. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Nevermore — Signature Theatre — ***. The personal and literary excesses of the tormented Edgar Allan Poe are the inspiration for a new work by Matt Conner that uses Poe’s poetry as the lyrics for a nonlinear song-cycle. Directed by Eric Schaeffer, it’s over the top in an Anne Rice-Vampire Lestat way, laying on the emotion and passion with a velvet-cloaked dagger. It could use some work and more variation in the music, but those who are not afraid of heightened states and otherworldly dimensions will find it frighteningly effective. Through March 5. 703/218-6500. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Story — African Continuum Theatre Company — ***. Tracey Scott Wilson’s forceful newsroom whodunit — about an ambitious but unethical newspaper reporter who gains fame and promotion through a fabricated story — compellingly delves into why a journalist would risk ruining a career by making up facts. It’s a riveting, topical morality tale, but Miss Wilson adds a layer of racism that forces the cast to utter bigoted screed that sounds like something scrawled on a placard. The dialogue is often wooden and the play ends abruptly. Still, this sensational treatment of journalists who never let facts get in the way does pull you in. Through Feb. 26 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. 202/399-7993. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Trying — Ford’s Theatre — **. Judge Francis Biddle of the Main Line Philadelphia family was a law secretary for Oliver Wendell Holmes, served as attorney general under Franklin D. Roosevelt and was a Truman-appointed chief U.S. judge at the Nuremberg Trials. He was a brilliant, irascible witness to world history. Yet playwright Joanna McClelland Glass, his secretary during 1967-1968, the last year of his life, focuses only on the elderly and severely ill Biddle as he struggles to put his memoirs and other papers in order. He becomes a pussycat grandpa in a cardigan sweater, and despite a commanding performance by the octogenarian James Whitmore, the play remains repetitive and the pace glacial. Through Sunday. 202/347-4833. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Two Queens, One Castle — MetroStage — ***. This deeply affecting musical parable about trust within a marriage tells the autobiographical story of the celebrated entertainer Jevetta Steele, of the gospel singing family The Steeles, who discovered that her husband and the father of her two sons was a closet homosexual and HIV-positive. With a tuneful mix of funk, blues, jazz, R&B; and gospel provided by William Hubbard and J.C. Steele (Miss Steele’s brother), this story of the Wife (Felicia Curry), the Husband (TC Carson), and the Lover (Gary E. Vincent) makes of Miss Steele’s private anguish a blazing public confession. Her lyrics often crackle with an anger that cannot be vanquished either by faith or years of therapy. Through March 5. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Velvet Sky — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s creepy, mesmeric play follows a woman who tracks her 12-year-old son through a series of New York adventures, all the while trying to keep him away from the Sandman, a malevolent figure who preys on children — and who may or may not be a hallucination. The evocation of a nightmarish state is one of the more compelling aspects of this production, a grandly delusional and paranoid dreamscape directed with a delectable sense of the macabre. It’s never clear what is real and what is supernatural — but if you are prone to bad dreams, “The Velvet Sky” may give you a sleepless night. Through March 5. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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