- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

OPENING

• Little Women — Kennedy Center Opera House. The Broadway musical based on Louisa May Alcott’s own family experiences. Opens Tuesday. 202/467-4600.

• The Other River: Ripples & Vibes from DC’s Southside — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. A community-based play that weaves together a story of lives, histories and neighborhoods from both sides of the Anacostia River. Tomorrow through Sunday at the ARC. 202/393-3939.

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 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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 Sunday. 240/644-1100. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Two-Headed — Washington Shakespeare Company — ***. Julie Jensen’s stark, involving play follows the lives of two Mormon women who were 10 years old at the time of the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857 — when Mormons butchered 120 California-bound emigrants from the Midwest and Southwest and blamed the Paiutes. As children, the two (Lee Mikeska Gardner and Melissa Flaim) exulted in the horrors of what the emigrants left behind, possibly even a two-headed calf, but as the two age into the indignities of polygamous marriages and hardship, the secrets they’ve kept eat them alive. The bare, unblinking poetry of the dialogue and staging puts you in mind of a desert version of “Waiting for Godot,” and the play features some compelling acting. Through July 9 at Clark Street Playhouse. 703/418-4808. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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