- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

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 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 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 Sunday at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. 202/467-4600. — 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

• Help Wanted: A Personal Search for Meaningful Employment at the Start of the 21st Century — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. Move over, Woody Allen. Twenty-four-year-old monologist Josh Lefkowitz has cornered the market on comic Jewish angst. Arms windmilling like Pete Townshend in the ‘70s, voice burbling up and down the scale with carbonated buoyancy, he displays a freewheeling showmanship that is infectious as he tells of his attempts to follow in the steps of his hero, the late confessional monologist Spalding Gray. Help wanted? Mr. Lefkowitz appears to be doing fine all on his own. Through Oct. 8. 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

• A Prayer for Owen Meany — Round House Theatre Bethesda — ****. Owen Meany is an extraordinary literary creation, and Round House Theatre’s staging, epically directed by artistic director Blake Robison, does towering justice to author John Irving’s bat-eared, banshee-voiced, pipsqueak believer in miracles. At turns comic, scathing and emotionally wrenching, “Prayer” blends compassion and social commentary in a disarming tale about a friendship that begins in the afterglow of America’s post-World War II years and ends in the fiery tumult of the Vietnam era. Both the novel and the play come down hard on organized religion and hypocrisy within the church, but still make a shimmering testimony on the power of faith. It’s the kind of far-reaching, visually majestic and sublimely acted theater you wish more area players would tackle instead of warmed-over revivals. Through Oct. 8. 240/640-1100. — 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

• The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee — Hippodrome Theatre — ***. Featuring quick-witted, Lewis Carroll-like lyrics by William Finn and a wildly funny book by Rachel Sheinkin (based on an original idea by Rebecca Feldman), this Tony Award-winning musical is letter-perfect entertainment. The fierce competition echoes the classic musical, “A Chorus Line,” only here six youngsters are grappling with double consonants and the first stirrings of puberty. The kids are practically swamped by first crushes, burgeoning rebelliousness and feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, not to mention the words. But even though they might be losers, their intelligence and social ineptness are completely winning. Through Sunday at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore. 800/551-SEAT. — Jayne Blanchard

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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