- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

OPENING

• Charlie Victor Romeo — Studio Theatre. A play that takes patrons behind the locked doors of an airplane cockpit during six different, real-life airline emergencies. Opens tomorrow. 202/332-3300.

• Two-Headed — Washington Shakespeare Company. Follow the friendship of two Mormon frontierswomen over the 40 years following the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857 in Southern Utah. Opens tonight at Clark Street Playhouse. 703/418-4808.

NOW PLAYING

• 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 June 18. 301/924-3400. 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 June 18 at the Kennedy Center Family Theater. 202/467-4600. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Glory of Living — Didactic Theatre — *. Rebecca Gilman’s 2001 drama, inexplicably nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, is little more than a staged snuff film, a tribute to trailer trash that is such a putrid waste of time and talent it makes a convincing argument for watching “American Choppers” or zoning out with an iPod. The play depicts the fallout from a bad childhood and even worse grammar as embodied in the 15-year-old spawn of a prostitute who is herself bedded and wedded by a sweaty car thief and ends up pimping and killing for him. By intermission, you want to be autoclaved. Through Sunday at the Warehouse Theater Mainstage. 202/249-0782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Hundred Dresses — Imagination Stage — **. Writer-director Mary Hall Surface has adapted Eleanor Estes’ 1942 young adult novel to the stage, expanding the book to include a subplot concerning the heroine’s getting a second chance to do the right thing. The themes of peer pressure, bullying, and materialism are tenderly imparted, but this Depression-era tale about a child developing a conscience is muted and melancholy, and comes across heavy-handed and didactic, especially in the second act. Through Sunday. 301/280-1660. 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.

• 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 June 18 at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.

• On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — **½. Eric Overmyer’s whimsical 1985 play, in a vibrant production, transports us to the Victorian era and three richly dressed female explorers who travel through space and time to the exotic 1950s, going googly-eyed over Hula-Hoops, “I Like Ike” buttons, and rock ‘n’ roll. Both eras were times when society’s prospects seemed unlimited, yet women were constrained by stern gender roles. The play at times suffers from a twee preciousness: You feel imprisoned either in a Whitman’s Sampler or an episode of “Happy Days.” Yet its tender charm is in its portrayal of a world where everything seemed arching and infinite. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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