- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

OPENING

• Alice in Underwear — Natural Theatricals. A bitter and abusive Manhattan theater critic lands an exclusive interview with a star and finds out that things are not always what they seem. Opens tonight at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. 703/739-9338.

• Ellington: The Life & Work of the Duke — Metrostage. An evening of pop-jazz songs from the legendary Duke Ellington. 8 p.m. Opens tomorrow. 800/494-8497.

NOW PLAYING

• Assassins — Signature Theatre — ***. Stephen Sondheim’s stirring, often forlornly funny musical look at nine infamous Americans who successfully and unsuccessfully tried to shoot a president elevates a rogue’s gallery of nut cases — from John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald and John Hinckley — to the level of art. This brash, confrontational production blurs the lines between audience and actor, assassin and citizen. The result is almost uncomfortably intimate. And although Mr. Sondheim’s music is sublime, it is merciful that “Assassins” is presented just under two hours without an intermission. A person can just take so much truth. Through July 30. 703/820-9771. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Caroline, or Change — Studio Theatre — ***. It’s 1963 Louisiana, in the early days of the civil rights movement, and a prickly bond between Noah, a daydream-spinning 8-year-old boy, and Caroline, his family’s 39-year-old black maid, is sorely tested in Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner’s first musical. It’s a mood-struck, highly emotive work with a rueful ending and music by Jeanine Tesori that owes more to tragic opera than musical comedy. The Studio Theatre plays up the sung-through, chamber opera aspects of the piece in a wonderfully shorn production that lets the power of the performances shine through and makes the work an unusually intimate experience. Through July 23. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Complete History of America (Abridged) — The Reduced Shakespeare Company — ***. If Ken Burns’ specials are just not doing it for you anymore, the Reduced Shakespeare Company has the solution — 600 years of the past comedically compressed into less than two hours. Those not easily offended will find the RSC’s brand of anarchic humor and sight gags a splendid romp through historic milestones. And funny as the show is, the astonishing thing is that you might actually learn a thing or two about American history.July 18-23 and 25-28 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hedda Gabler — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — ***. Henrik Ibsen’s 106-year-old play is either a wrathful condemnation of Victorian societal constraints and the suppression of females as a whole, or an unflinching psychological portrait of a hell-bound woman with the vicious energy of a Medea. No matter whether you consider Hedda a feminist icon or the Hindu goddess Kali in a corset, Ibsen’s play and this first-rate production, directed with an actor’s keen eye by Halo Wines, will hold you in its thrall. Through July 23. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Little Women: The Musical —Kennedy Center Opera House — **. An endearing, if slight, musical version of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic about the four March sisters from a family in Civil War America. We love them because they are short on luxuries but inventive, affectionate, loyal and devoted to one another and their mother, Marmee (Maureen McGovern). Miss McGovern’s voice is a marvel, but there is only a smattering of decent songs in the show, and even these fade fast from memory. Where the novel is warm and epic, the musical seems like a big show with a small heart. Through July 23. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Love’s Labor’s Lost — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***. Director Michael Kahn brings back the ‘60s in a trippy, fun-loving way, raiding the closets of the hippies, the mods and the rockers for a transcendental look back at the peace-and-love decade as he sets Shakespeare’s poetry-drunk romantic comedy at an ashram run by King Ferdinand of Navarre. Here three members of rock royalty retreat, vowing to give up women and their band Plexi Glass for three years in favor of more intellectual pursuits — until four sophisticated and witty Frenchwomen arrive. The play runs out of steam in the second half, but the psychedelic glow and helium high of the first half, along with deliciously shiny, happy tunes, sustain it. Through July 30. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• No End of Blame: Scenes of Overcoming — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — **. The Potomac Theater Project production of Howard Barker’s vituperative, dense play explores the power and provocation of the political cartoonist. It traces the rise and fall of a Hungarian doodler who survives both world wars and communism but ultimately fails in his quest to get people to see the awful truth in the world and in themselves. The drama is not helped by jump cuts, a surfeit of rhetoric and acting that careens between merely adequate to scenery-chewing. But it still delivers a scathing statement about the way we treat artists. Through July 23. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Picasso’s Closet — Theatre J — *1/2. Ariel Dorfman’s new play, an industriously staged world premiere, takes a cubist, time-bending look at what Picasso was up to while the Germans occupied Paris during World War II. The play also imagines that Picasso did not die in 1973 at 92 but was murdered by an art-appreciating Nazi in 1944. The play is long-winded, wordy and exposition-encumbered. Who knew that the artist and his circle were champion gum-flappers? After three hours of hot air you determine that it is no mystery what Picasso was doing for four years in German-occupied Paris. He was jawing. Through July 23 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• U.S.A. — American Century Theater — **. John Dos Passos’ epic 1938 novel was a sprawling masterpiece, written in the jittery style of jazz and capturing an America unmoored from its founding ideals. As a play — the result of 1959 collaboration between Mr. Dos Passos and playwright and adaptor Paul Shyre, in which a cast of six tries to capture both Mr. Dos Passos’ unconventional writing style and the clashing, layered portraits of Americans from 1900 to 1929 — it’s a curiosity, intermittently fascinating but more a theatrical experiment than anything else. In this production we get the breadth of U.S. history, but little of its impact and emotion. Through Saturday at the Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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