- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

NOW PLAYING

• Autumn Garden American Century Theater— —.** Lillian Hellman’s seldom-seen 1951 drama, set in a formerly gracious mansion on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, shows humanity at its most disappointed and picayune as a group of deluded people either relive events and romances of 25 years before, or try desperately to latch onto the wrong person. It’s an intriguing play, touched with melancholy, a fine vein of black humor, and characters that are robustly unsympathetic. But the cast, saddled with ill-fitting and unflattering costumes, plainly struggles with the play’s demands; the acting ranges from passable to the kind of scenery chewing that makes your eyes burn. Through April 15 at Theater II, Gunston Arts Center. 703/553-8782. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Fat Pig — Studio Theatre — ****. Neil LaBute’s play confronts our attitudes toward weight and appearance with blistering honesty and wit. It’s almost unheard of for a big woman to be seen in a sexual context, but here, smart, appealing, plus-size Helen (Kate Debelack) gets the guy, a buff, successful executive named Tom (Tyler Pierce) — and gets steamy boudoir scenes as well. Mr. LaBute holds up the cliches “love is blind” and “looks aren’t everything” to almost unbearable scrutiny. Under the disgusted, ruthless gazes of Tom’s friends, this love doesn’t stand a chance. Through April 2. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Haroun and the Sea of Stories — Theater Alliance — **1/2. When a master storyteller in an Indian hamlet loses his gift, his daughter Haroun travels to the fabulous Sea of Stories to reconnect her father to the flow of imagination and words. This adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s 1990 novel — a giant allegory depicting his troubles and exile after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini condemned him to death for “blasphemous” writing — was written as a way to tell his young son of his troubles and also to depict the price we all pay for silencing a writer’s voice. The play is largely enchanting, but director and choreographer Kelly Parsley ladles on the fanciful touches until the audience is nearly drowning in a sea of decorative language, perfumed metaphors, and quirky movement. Through April 9 at the H Street Playhouse. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Hip Hop Anansi — Imagination Stage — ***. Adapted by Elsa Davis from the story “Anansi and His Sons,” this hip-hop version features a trickster spider named Anansi (Fred Michael Beam), who wants to win the “golden fly pie” more than anything but must rely on the talents of his children to claim the prize. It’s a hip-hop show to which you’d feel comfortable taking the whole family. The b-boys and fly girls in this production are youthful and fresh-faced. No BET-style, hootchy-kootchy moves or even a wisp of gangsta violence. These are the mean streets of “Sesame Street.” Through April 13. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie — Studio Theatre — **. Jay Presson Allen’s adaptation of the Muriel Spark novel, about a self-centered but charismatic Scottish boarding school teacher who tries to mold her students in her own image, needs an actress who is more a force of nature than an everyday human being. As Jean Brodie the cherished Sarah Marshall appears miscast, vacillating between eccentric largesse and a palpable feeling of discomfort, as if the character’s clothes don’t fit. With the central magnetism of the character gone, the play loses its focus and becomes a rather fragmented and slightly tawdry tale of an out-of-control teacher and her wayward pupils. Through April 16 at the Metheny Theatre. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Rainmaker — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — ***. Set in the American West during the Great Depression, N. Richard Nash’s play, a staple of community theaters for years, has an aura of quiet desperation about it. Every character is parched in some way, hoping for a miracle big and small — none more so than a plain-Jane young woman near the end of her “marrying years,” who begins to appreciate herself only when she’s wooed by a seedy, charming confidence man who blows into town and promises he can make it rain. Director Lisa Peterson’s finely wrought production of the 50-year-old American classic emits a gentle, steady sense of hope, that even in our most despairing moments, relief and release are only a drop away. Through April 9. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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