- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

OPENING

• A Body of Water — Round House Theatre Silver Spring —. A man and woman awake one morning in an unfamiliar house atop a mountain surrounded by water and, to make matters worse, they don’t know who they are. Opens tomorrow. 5/12 644-1100.

• Caroline, or Change — Studio Theatre. As the civil rights movement ignites passions across the South, one black woman dreams of changing her life in Tony Kushner’s musical. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

NOW PLAYING

• Bal Masque — Theatre J — ***1/2. Playwright Richard Greenberg’s intriguing and stylish chamber play catches three Manhattan couples as they return from “the party of the century,” Truman Capote’s 1966 Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel. The ball symbolized the breaking down of social mores during the ‘60s, and Mr. Greenberg explores the cultural shift in this world premiere. The actors are superb and superbly matched, and John Vreeke’s direction is impeccable. “Bal Masque” is an aria for the ears and the intellect. Through May 21 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Becoming George — Metro Stage — **. As conceived by Patti McKenny and Doug Frew, this new musical is not about 19th-century French author George Sand’s artistically and socially revolutionizing work. Instead it dwells on her sunset years, when she is a reflective duffer ruminating on past loves and the artistic development of the young Sarah Bernhardt. Evidently George Sand’s life wasn’t interesting enough. It’s largely brushed aside in favor of a touchy-feely, “free to be you and me” message about becoming your own woman. Kat’ Taylor is a wise and intelligently benevolent presence as George Sand, but Megan Midkiff as La Bernhardt lacks dramatic heft and comes across as a ninny. Some of the music is catchy and tuneful, and the lyrics contain moments of style and wit. As a whole the musical is merely a sketch that shows tiny glints of promise. Through May 28. 703/548-9044. 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 and 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 May 21 at the Rosslyn Spectrum. 703/824-8060. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Frozen — Studio Theatre Secondstage — ****. Three sterling performances by Andrew Long, Nancy Robinette and MaryBeth Wise, an absorbing and emotionally complex play by British playwright Bryony Lavery, and impeccable direction by David Muse. Who could ask for anything more? This is the kind of small, intense, actor-driven show for which Studio Theatre is known. The play charts the interwoven lives of three psychologically paralyzed characters: a convicted child murderer, an American researcher who believes that serial killers are ill and not evil, and the mother of a 10-year-old girl who was one of the victims. The production thrills in the deepest sense with exquisite acting that burns with intelligence and heat. Through May 21. 202/332-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — **1/2. Lainie Robertson’s stage show does not attempt a definitive biography of Billie Holiday, but instead tries to capture the calamitous spirit of the Baltimore-born singer as she might have been in 1959, the year of her death at age 44 from years of hard drinking and heroin addiction. The place is a gin-soaked jazz club in Philadelphia, where Lady Day (Lynn Sterling) is down on her luck but still wearing the signature gardenias in her hair and immaculate white evening finery. Miss Sterling neatly captures the flavor of Miss Holiday’s singing style, and the evening is melodic and frequently entertaining. However, there’s a tawdriness about the play’s depiction of the legendary vocalist. They didn’t call Miss Holiday “Lady” for nothing, and making her a tramp does her an injustice. Through June 4. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• The Persians — Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***. Ellen McLaughlin’s short, spiky new version of Aeschylus’ powerful and empathetic cautionary play has inspired a visually startling and aurally textured production directed by Ethan McSweeny. The play retells the battle at Salamis, which felled the Persian army at a hideous cost to both sides. The running time may be 80 minutes, but the Shakespeare Theatre packs plenty of spectacle in both the show’s physical aspects and the forthright potency of Aeschylus’ descriptions of the carnage of war. Through May 21. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Shenandoah — Ford’s Theatre — **1/2. This revival of the war-weary 1975 musical about the Civil War presents a pacifist stance within a patriotic American context, and the question it asks — about the necessity for all that killing and dying — is as appropriate as ever. The play centers on Charlie Anderson, a Lincolnesque widower from Virginia who is adamant about keeping his sons out of the Civil War — a war that by play’s end he cannot avoid. Director Jeff Calhoun’s production features striking staging and winning performances. At times the show feels flimsy and patched together, with interminable narrative passages and a windy first act. The music is catchy but unsubstantial. Nevertheless, it is stunningly relevant today to a battle-fatigued America. Through May 21. 202/397-SEAT. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Silent Partners — Scena Theatre — ***. That charismatic monster of German theater, Bertolt Brecht, receives an etched-in-acid profile in this staging of Charles Marowitz’s vastly enjoyable look at the mutually parasitic relationship between the playwright and his translator, Eric Bentley, a critic and academic. The world premiere work, adapted from Mr. Bentley’s book, “The Brecht Memoir,” revels in delicious humor as it ponders why people allowed Brecht to manipulate them so mercilessly. In his direction Mr. Marowitz is overly indulgent with his own play, which needs some drastic editing. But the play bracingly explores the relationship between idol and sycophant. Through May 21 at the Warehouse Theater. 703/684-7990. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

• Two Rooms — Theater Alliance — ***. Lee Blessing’s bleakly touching play was written in 1988 when the taking of Western hostages by Middle Eastern factions was a new and alarming tactic. It charts the fates of a teacher (David Johnson) captured in Beirut and kept fettered in a filthy cell for three years and his distraught wife in America (Kathleen Coons), who as she battles bureaucratic doublespeak in her attempts to free him, has stripped his home office bare as a way to capture his presence. In effect, both are captive, and after a reporter urges the wife to go public with her story, the consequences are unpredictable and chilling. The play puts you through an emotional wringer, but the sadness is leavened by extraordinary performances and incisive direction by Shirley Serotsky. Through May 28 at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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