- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2006

OPENING

• Agnes of God — Keegan Theatre. A contemporary murder mystery set within the confines of a convent, where a devout nun is accused of infanticide. Opens tonight at the Church Street Theater. 703/892-0202.

• Jon Spelman’s Frankenstein — Round House Theatre Silver Spring. The classic horror story told from the viewpoint of Dr. Frankenstein’s creature. Opens tonight. 240/644-1100.

• Never the Sinner — Actors’ Theatre of Washington. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two teenagers from Chicago, plan the perfect murder and almost get away with it. Opens tonight at the Source Theatre. 800/494-8497.

• Spring Forward/Fall Back — Theater J. The story of successive generations of fathers and sons and their continuing conflicts over music. Opens tonight. 800/494-8497.

NOW PLAYING

• Cabaret — Arena Stage Fichandler Theatre — *1/2. Arena Stage’s lugubrious production of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s 1966 musical — set in a debauched nightclub in pre-World War II Berlin — takes an already politically charged musical and lards it over with contemporary references to anti-Semitism, homophobia, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and the erosion of American civil liberties after September 11. The dark dazzle of the musical nearly collapses from the strain. Much of its sophistication is lost, and the wicked decadence of the piece all of a sudden seems squalid in the context of director Molly Smith’s vision of “Cabaret” as a morality play and battleground for human rights. Through Oct. 29. 202/488-3300. — Jayne Blanchard

• An Enemy of the People — Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***. Olney Theatre presented “Enemy” during the summer in a production that captured the fierce diatribe energy of Henrik Ibsen?s play, a staged political pamphlet exploring the venality of small towners who discover that the “healing” waters of their money-making public baths are toxic. The Shakespeare Theatre’s translation is leaner and more honed and cruelly funnier than the summer’s version. The speechifying has been edited; the problematic handling of the female characters has been resolved and the optimism of the ending has been excised. The pared-down quality extends to the performances, which are consistently high and trimmed of excess. Through Sunday. 202/547-1122. Jayne Blanchard

• The Foreigner — Olney Theatre Center — **1/2. Larry Shue’s comedy — about a cripplingly shy man who manages to expose corruption in a Georgia church and local government when he pretends not to understand or speak English — has been a staple of community and regional theaters since its premiere in 1983. Its decaffeinated appeal makes it a shoo-in for those who like their plays gentle and non-threatening. This production yields few thunderbolts but is well-acted and easy on the eyes. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400. — Jayne Blanchard

• The Gingham Dog — African Continuum Theatre Company — *1/2. Lanford Wilson’s first Broadway play, written in 1968, explores the implosion of a once-happy interracial union at the height of the civil rights movement. The first-act breakup is harsh and rancid as the black woman from Harlem realizes she wants nothing to do with white society and turns her bile upon the white architect from Kentucky. The dialogue is stilted, driving home a polemic point rather than going for naturalness. After the strident invective of the first act, the coziness of the second half — in which the couple tries to make sense of what they’ve done — seems forced and false. The play has merit as a curiosity and an example of Mr. Wilson?s early work. As a satisfying play, however, it is all bark and no bite. Through Sunday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. 202/399-7993. — Jayne Blanchard

• Girl in the Goldfish Bowl — MetroStage — ***1/2. This transcendent production of Canadian playwright Morris Panych’s play — about an unhappy marriage as glimpsed through the eyes of the 10-year-old daughter in a dull small town in western Canada — captures the moment when a child moves from innocence to adult sensibilities, and does it with eccentric humor and unguarded honesty. Young Iris is a glorious creation who dwells firmly in her splendid imagination and becomes fixated on the idea that a mysterious stranger is the reincarnation of her dead goldfish. The denouement is a messy affair straight out of “The Sopranos” and the recovery strikes a false note. But Mr. Panych combines a dastardly sense of humor with bighearted insights into life’s most troubling passages, and Susan Lynskey unforgettably plays both sides of Iris’ nature — scarily smart child and awkward young girl desperate for love and attention. Through Oct. 29. 703/548-9044. — 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 takes place in the shadows. Through Nov. 19. 800/955-5566. — Jayne Blanchard

• 9 Parts of Desire — Arena Stage Kreeger Theatre — ***. 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

• Red Light Winter — Studio Theatre — ***1/2. Adam Rapp’s flint-hearted comedy about two thirtysomething American chums whose sybaritic vacation of booze, drugs and a romp with a gorgeous prostitute in Amsterdam changes their lives, is not a play to cozy up to. The friendship has a top dog/underdog dynamic and the love triangle is sordid. Although plenty of sex is portrayed onstage (the show is graphic sexually and in regard to language), it is not particularly inviting. Yet the staccato rhythms and slap-in-the-face brusqueness of the writing recall David Mamet or Neil LaBute at their most curdled, and a trio of dynamic performances marshaled by director Joy Zinoman sharpen Mr. Rapp’s distinct voice. Studio Theatre sustains its hot streak with “Red Light Winter.” Through Oct. 29. 202/332-3300. — 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. While 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 Nov. 5. 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

• State of the Union — Ford’s Theatre — ***. Originally produced in 1945, Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s Pulitzer Prize-winning political comedy about a straight-talking industrialist’s makeover as a presidential candidate is as up-to-the-minute as a podcast, thanks to a sparkling production under the direction of Kyle Donnelly that emphasizes the play’s savvy insights and jaunty dialogue. You may groan at the idea of a three-act, well-made play, but the show just zips by. If only real politicians and their wives were this dashing and entertaining. Through Sunday. 202/347-4833. — Jayne Blanchard

• Twelve Angry Men — Roundabout Theatre — ***. Reginald Rose?s teleplay of 1954 — about a jury deciding the fate of a teenager charged with the manslaughter of his father — became a film in 1957 and a TV movie in 1997. Director Scott Ellis captures the claustrophobic feel of Sidney Lumet?s film as, on a hot summer day, the 12 men maneuver — and turn on each other — in a dingy, government-issue jury room. It’s a fascinating study of how a dozen average Joes approach a life-and-death decision, with George Wendt as the jury foreman and Richard Thomas as the steadily inquisitive Juror Eight, who plants the seed of ?reasonable doubt? in the other jurors’ minds. The play radiates intelligence and authority. Through Sunday at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. 202/467-4600. — Jayne Blanchard

• Valor, agravio y mujer (Stripping Don Juan) — GALA Hispanic Theatre — ***. This thoroughly enjoyable 17th-century comedy by Spanish playwright Ana Caro Mallen de Soto, one of the rare women playwrights of Spain’s Golden Age, is an unusual and funny look at how a scorned Spanish flame of Don Juan’s exacts her revenge. She travels from Seville to Brussels and dresses as a man to gain access to Don Juan’s exclusive inner circle, stripping the cavalier macho man of his dignity, honor and pride. In Spanish with English surtitles. Through Sunday at the Tivoli. 800/494-TIXS. — Alfredo Flores

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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