- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

OPENING

• Hedda Gabler Olney Theatre Center for the Arts—. Ibsen’s “female Hamlet” tries to settle into married life until a former lover’s book threatens her new husband’s career. Opens Wednesday.6/21924-3400.

• Noises Off — Renegade Theater Company. See the life of a traveling theater company onstage and backstage in the comedic play. Opens tomorrow at the Warehouse Theater. 301/871-1487.

• Picasso’s Closet — Theatre J. A radical reinterpretation of Pablo Picasso’s time in occupied Paris: What if he didn’t die in 1973 but was murdered by the Nazis in 1944? Opens Wednesday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 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 nutcases — 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 9. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Elephant Man — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — ***. All elements click in this production of Bernard Pomerance’s play about John Merrick, a real-life Victorian-era figure with tremendous physical deformities who went from sideshow attraction to sought-after member of London’s most exclusive social circles. Direction, lighting design, set and performances are outstanding. Scott Fortier’s portrayal of Merrick is towering: the frozen arm, the tilted head, the dragging gait, the strangulated speech that contains such wit and feeling if you listen closely for its peculiar music. A masterful production. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Faculty Room — Woolly Mammoth — **. Bridget Carpenter’s play disparages educators, students and religious fervor and can’t make up its mind whether it is a comedy or a scary depiction of the apocalypse. The play has been mounted with fine production values and finesse by Howard Shalwitz, but its purpose does not come through. Despite its flaws, Mr. Shalwitz and Woolly Mammoth should be commended for their unwavering commitment to new and raw work. Through July 9. 202/393-3939. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Faust — Synetic Theater — ***. Adaptor Nathan Weinberger and director Paata Tsikurishvili update Goethe’s moralistic 1775 play to a darkly lush Goth fantasy where the devil’s minions engage in carnal frolics that resemble something out of a Maxim magazine spread. The uninhibited, punked out booty-call production features a supple, youthful cast with runway-worthy physiques and an often goofy, mock-horror-flick take on the Faust legend. Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili’s dance sequences sometimes recall a frenzied, airborne version of the Kama Sutra. And Dan Istrate as Mephistopheles gives us a devil who is impishly funny, craven and completely irresistible. Never has vice looked so alluring — and aerobic. Through Sunday at the Kennedy Center Family Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Mame — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — ***. Directed with show-stopper dynamism by Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer, this 40th-anniversary production of Jerry Herman’s infectious, all-American classic is splashy, no-holds-barred fun. Christine Baranski as the stylish, soignee auntie has a distinctive, drop-dead way with a line and a witty delicacy in her double-takes. Even so, her singing wavers in quality and sometimes she recedes into the background when Mame should always be front and center. If this revival had brought something new to the venerable musical, the results might have been spectacular. Instead, the show is what Mame herself would never have been — perfectly respectable. Through July 2. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Monty Python’s Spamalot — National Theatre — ***1/2. The Pythons send up the Camelot legend in a road production that travels from Broadway without stars but with all its salty, porcine humor intact. Lifted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” with some classic bits from the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” TV series and other Python movies thrown in, the wispy story concerns King Arthur and his bumbling knights, who set out to find the Holy Grail but instead encounter such as the Killer Bunny and Not Dead Fred. Laughs and irreverent mayhem rule the day as the road company maintains the dizzying degree of silliness and high energy of the original. Through July 9. 800/447-7400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Monument — Theater Alliance — ***. This bruising play by the Canadian Colleen Wagner delivers the message that “we are all dogs and slaves” and does it with a punch as a steely maternal figure takes physical and psychological command of a young soldier who has raped and killed 22 women. He becomes her slave and punching bag until he breaks. The tension-filled play is not easy to watch. But you cannot keep your eyes off Jennifer Mendenhall and Alexander Strain, who go way beyond the comfort zone in their portrayals of the accuser and the guilty. Through Sunday at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• A Murder, A Mystery, & A Marriage: A Mark Twain Musical Melodrama — Round House Theatre Bethesda — ***. Aaron Posner and James Sugg have turned high-toned Bethesda into a barn dance, a rollicking, family-oriented musical melodrama that seems as easy as a gentle burp after a big Sunday dinner. Set in 1876 and based on a newly discovered Mark Twain short story, it centers on who will wed the daughter of a Deer Lick, Mo., hog farmer. It’s old-timey and corny and filled with stock characters and situations, yet as tuneful as a duet between Roy Clark and the late Buck Owens. But if your idea of purgatory is listening to a country station or traveling anywhere south of Tysons Corner, this will be two hours of torture. Through June 25. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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