- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

OPENING

• Short Order Stories — Charter Theatre Company. In late August 2001, Larry’s Diner is packed with parents and their kids making their annual drive to the many colleges in southern New York state, but on this trip one family’s future might change forever. Opens tomorrow at Theatre on the Run. 202/333-7009.

• State of the Union — Ford’s Theatre. Love meets politics in Lindsay and Crouse’s Pulitzer-winning comedic drama. Opens tomorrow. 202/347-4833.

• Stones in His Pockets — Rep Stage. Jake and Charlie see the ups and downs of show business when they are hired as extras in their small County Kerry town. Opens tomorrow. 410/772-4900.

NOW PLAYING

• 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 funny 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 Oct. 22. 202/547-1122. Jayne Blanchard

• Cabaret — Arena Stage — *-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

• Frankenstein — Synetic Theater — ***. Mary Shelley’s 1816 gothic chiller is a splendid match for Synetic’s cinematic, flagrantly dramatic style, and this is an operatic and visually triumphant adaptation. The novel is woozy in its depiction of ratcheting horror, and everything about this stage production is, likewise, exquisitely exaggerated. Dan Istrate’s Victor Frankenstein, a character of monumental ego who yet realizes that playing God comes with an awful burden, is magnificent. The audacious passion of Synetic’s adaptation gives this oldie a jolt of new life. Through Oct. 1 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. 202/467-4600. — Jayne Blanchard

• In the Continuum — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. Woolly Mammoth’s new season gets off to a commanding start with Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter’s soaring and grave look at how AIDS affects two very different young black women in Los Angeles and Zimbabwe. An embracing, perceptive and funny work directed by Robert O’Hara, it seeks to redress — without being an overbearing message play — the theater world’s neglect of the devastation the virus has visited upon heterosexual women. Although continents apart, both Abigail (Miss Gurira) and Nia (Miss Salter) are left alone to face not only their HIV/AIDS diagnosis, but also the censure the disease brings from ignorant people. The play is quietly shattering in the way it portrays the reality of many black women grappling with AIDS. Through Sunday. 202/393-3939. Jayne Blanchard

• Opus — Everyman Theatre — ***1/2. Violinist turned playwright Michael Hollinger’s genteel and involving play about the inner workings of a string quartet gives a tantalizing glimpse into the insular and emotionally combative world of a famous ensemble as it prepares for a televised performance at the White House. Directed with sparkling musicality by John Vreeke, it may not blow you away with bombast, but its expression of fine feeling and unseemly outbursts are delicately moving. Through Oct. 15 at 1727 North Charles St., Baltimore. 410/752-2208. — 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. 15. 202/332-3300. — 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. Through Oct. 9 at the Warehouse Theater. 202/783-7212. Jayne Blanchard

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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