- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

OPENING

• The Children’s Hour Washington Shakespeare Company.— A student attacks her teachers through destructive gossip in Lillian Hellman’s first stage hit. Opens tonight6/1Clark Street Playhouse. 703/418-4808.

• The Faculty Room — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. A look into the dark side of high school life from the inside of the teachers’ lounge. Opens Monday. 202/393-3939.

• Love’s Labor’s Lost — The Shakespeare Theatre. Four noblemen renounce the world’s pleasures for the world of academia, only to fall helplessly in love. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.

• Monty Python’s Spamalot — National Theatre. The legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table set to music and Pythonesque comedy. Opens Tuesday. 800/447-7400.

• The Pirates of Penzance — New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players. One of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operettas. Tomorrow and Saturday at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center. 703/218-6500.

NOW PLAYING

• A Body of Water — Round House Theatre Silver Spring — ***. Everyone’s having a senior moment in Lee Blessing’s funny, enigmatic play, which the talented Rebecca Bayla Taichman has directed to a fine sheen. In a mountaintop oasis surrounded on all sides by water and trees, a sponge-brained, middle-aged couple struggle to discover who they are and how they got there, as a brisk young woman who may or may not be their daughter feeds them what may be clues. The gently mischievous play, which turns frightening at the drop of a hat, seems to ask to what extent we choose our own reality. Mr. Blessing’s way of toying with memory and perception recalls the work of Pinter and Beckett. Unlike their often bracing chill, however, this play is disturbing but never alienating. Through Sunday. 240/644-1100. 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 June 25. 202/332-3300. 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 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 June 11. 301/280-1660. 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 Sunday. 202/488-3300. 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 11 at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.

• On the Verge, or the Geography of Yearning — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — **1/2. 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 June 11. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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