- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

OPENING

• An Enemy of the People — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts. In Ibsen’s classic drama, Dr. Stockman discovers high contamination levels in his home town’s water supply and everyone pressures him to keep quiet. In repertory as part of the Potomac Theatre Project. Opens tomorrow. 301/924-3400.

• One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — Firebelly Productions. The story of a mental ward in the early 1960s, based on the novel by Ken Kesey. Opens tonight at Theatre on the Run. 703/908-8520.

• Picasso at the Lapin Agile — The Keegan Theatre. A comedic look at a chance meeting between the young and undiscovered versions of Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein. Opens tonight at Clark Street Playhouse. 703/527-6000.

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 Sunday. 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. Through Sunday and Tuesday to July 28 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Ellington: The Life and Music of the Duke — Metrostage — ***. This evening of pop-jazz songs from the legendary Duke Ellington never sheds light on Mr. Ellington’s inner thoughts or personal compulsions, but anchored by a jazz quartet as tight and swinging as something out of Harlem in its heyday, it is a tuneful and elegant tribute to the jazz great. Through Aug. 6. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• An Experiment with an Air Pump — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — ***. Shelagh Stephenson’s play looks into the hearts of two families as she offers a compelling discourse on the morality of science in two epochs — 1799, the dawning of the Industrial Revolution, and 1999, the eve of a new century in which man has unlocked the secrets of DNA — and the ability of passion to both elevate and deform. Director Cheryl Faraone adeptly juggles ethical issues with matters of the heart in Olney’s first-rate production, appearing as part of the annual Potomac Theatre Project. This is not escapist summer fare. Its ideas could hold Stephen Hawking rapt, but the play also captivates the less analytical parts of the mind in its depiction of how passion can challenge even the most hermetic human equation. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. 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 Sunday. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — *. The Gallic tang of the Belgian songwriter’s music and lyrics are tarted up like a Pigalle prostitute in this heavy-handed staging. Director Jim Petosa gives the Liberace treatment to this normally entertaining revue of Mr. Brel’s songbook, piling on the pointless production values and the unintentionally hooty literal translations of the tunes until the whole show threatens to burst at the seams and drown the audience in “le schmaltz.” Jacques Brel may be alive and living in Paris, but this production makes you wish you were dead and buried in Pere Lachaise with Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Through July 30. 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 Sunday. 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 Sunday. 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 Sunday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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