- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Pixar animated comedy “Cars” and the Robert Altman-Garrison Keillor show-business comedy “A Prairie Home Companion” are clearly the major new attractions of the weekend. Nevertheless, active moviegoers intrigued by independent features made in our region might also make some time for Swimmers, booked exclusively at the Avalon. Written and directed by Doug Sadler, this melodrama about a maritime family struggling to overcome debts and estrangements was shot on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which provides an admirably distinctive and evocative sense of place. Introduced at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2005, the movie recruits Broadway actress Cherry Jones to play the beleagured mother of the family, Julia Tyler. One of the children from “Mad Hot Ballroom,” Tara Devon Gallagher, portrays her youngest, 11-year-old Emma, whose need for inner ear surgery becomes her parents’ most urgent preoccupation.

— Gary Arnold

“Have you seen The Elephant Man yet?” someone asked at a Sunday matinee of another show. “The lighting’s great.” That’s like suggesting you go to a Caravaggio exhibit because the restrooms are clean. More than wattage illuminates Olney Theatre Center’s 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. Lighting, direction, set, performances — particularly Scott Fortier’s towering portrayal of Merrick — all click to make a masterful production. Through June 18 at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. $10. 301/924-3400.

— Jayne Blanchard

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