- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

OPENING

• The Beaux’ Stratagem — Shakespeare Theatre Company. After squandering their fortunes on drinking and gambling, Tom Aimwell and Jack Archer head for the countryside, where they hope to seduce two rich women in this 18th-century classic. Opens Tuesday. 202/547-1122.

• Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Josie is dreading her 49th birthday, so a client of hers throws a party with a special musical guest. Opens Monday. 202/393-3939.

NOW PLAYING

• The Bluest Eye — Theater Alliance — ****. Toni Morrison’s celebrated 1970 novel is the basis for this incandescent production, directed with a sure hand by David Muse. The story of an 11-year-old black girl in 1941 Ohio who prays for the blue eyes, blond hair and pink skin she thinks will keep people from making fun of her. It’s pitted with sorrow, yet the alchemy created by Lydia Diamond’s agile adaptation, exemplary ensemble acting and well-placed bursts of traditional spiritual m’usic lift Miss Morrison’s work from desperate sadness to tragic grandeur. Through Nov. 12 at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050. — Jayne Blanchard

• Crestfall — Studio Theatre Secondstage — **1/2. Irish playwright Mark O?Rowe?s 90-minute assault drama deals with a day of violence and debasement in a Dublin slum as told by a trio of women, none of whom knows the entire sequence of events. It’s a feral, splendidly acted production under the direction of Joy Zinoman, and its shifting perspectives and heady infatuation with wordplay have fostered comparisons to James Joyce. But at times it is more snuff film than theater, and you find yourself quickly benumbed by its fusillade of violent imagery. Jennifer Mendenhall, Kimberly Schraf and Mari Howells are expert in retelling their stories of sadistic cruelties, most of which cannot be described in a newspaper. A clue: After seeing ?Crestfall,? an innocent pony ride or the words ?Here, doggie? will never mean the same again. Through Nov. 12. 202/332-3300. — Jayne Blanchard

• My Fair Lady — Signature Theatre — **. Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer has stripped Lerner and Loewe’s romantic musical right down to its grubby underthings. Class differences, Britain’s exacting caste system, and the notion that beneath every socialite lurks a guttersnipe are the prevailing motifs in Mr. Schaeffer’s twisted, darkly sexual vision of the play. Arresting moments do exist in the production, along with some excellent performances, but this “My Fair Lady” isn’t about linguistics, it’s about lust — the nasty, craven kind that is exploitive and is realized in the shadows. Through Nov. 19. 800/955-5566. — Jayne Blanchard

• Jon Spelman’s Frankenstein — Round House Theatre Silver Spring — *-1/2. Gloomy, introspective and about as entertaining as cleaning out the lint trap, Jon Spelman’s take on Mary Shelley’s 1816 gothic novel — told from the point of view of the articulate, Plutarch-reading Creature, who sops with low self-esteem — eliminates all the terror and the shivery moments and replaces them with a dull harangue on man’s inhumanity to unsightly creatures. Mr. Spelman is normally a storyteller who conjures vivid and far-reaching images with his words, but by eliminating the creepy aspects of the novel in favor of the touchy-feely, he makes your skin crawl for all the wrong reasons. Through Nov. 12. 240/644-1100. — Jayne Blanchard

• 9 Parts of Desire — Arena Stage Kreeger Theater — ***. Performer and writer Heather Raffo’s one-woman show brings the Iraq war home with heart-rending depth and clarity. It explores sex, in the sense of both gender and carnality, and what it means to be a mother, a wife, a lover, a daughter or a sister — women who live in secret, concealing their bodies in long scarves and the traditional Iraqi black robes. The grimness accretes to an almost intolerable degree, but Miss Raffo puts a human, divinely feminine face on it, showing how war and tyranny ravage the souls and bodies of Iraqi women but cannot completely silence their voices. Through Nov. 12. 202/488-3300. — Jayne Blanchard

• Sleeping Beauty: The Time Traveler — Imagination Stage — **1/2. This update of the Sleeping Beauty legend astutely casts aside the fantasy of an enchanted girl awakened by a prince and emphasizes a young person’s journey to independence as a young princess time-travels to the 21st century to become adopted by an American family and its video-gamer son. Though continuity problems interfere with the charm, the show moves briskly and brightly, the cast contributes engaging performances, and the music is as sprightly as ever. Through Sunday. 301/961-6060. — Jayne Blanchard

• Son of a Bush — Gross National Product —**. Gross National Product’s new political comedy show is a sometimes endearingly low-tech deflation of inside-the-Beltway maneuvers, election-year posturing and the Bush administration. A lot of the political humor is about as fresh as a Tricky Dick impression. GNP does not bring anything new to the table, instead resorting to Dick Cheney’s gun mishaps and Bushisms we have seen parodied a million times before. If you’re going to pick an easy target, make sure you can hit it at least some of the time. Extended indefinitely on Saturdays at the Warehouse Theater. 202/783-7212. — Jayne Blanchard

• Spring Forward, Fall Back — Theater J — **1/2. Esteemed critic Robert Brustein packs a lot of regret into this world-premiere 90 minutes as he embarks on a nostalgic, frequently unsparing, journey into his childhood, fatherhood as he experienced it and his own son’s early foray into child rearing. A sense of deep loss runs through the play: an ebbing away of life, the loss of Jewish culture and of a strong sense of family, a dwindling appreciation for the classical arts. It’s a noble and honest effort at making sense of one man’s life as he questions his upbringing and the way he raised his child. Through Nov. 26. 800/494-8497. — Jayne Blanchard MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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