- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

OPENING• The Director: The Third Act of Elia Kazan — Round House Theatre Silver Spring. A biographical account of the rise and fall of Academy Award-winning director Elia Kazan. Opens tonight. 240/644-1100.• Nest — Signature Theatre. The story of Susanna Cox, a Mennonite accused of infanticide in 1809, and the first woman to be hanged in Pennsylvania. Opens Tuesday. 703/820-7790.• Opus — Washington Stage Guild. A string quartet must replace an unstable player, and the four men must adjust to the modulations produced by the addition of a young woman. Opens tonight. 240/582-0050.• Renaissance — Landless Theatre Company. Two survivors of the Holocaust struggle with forgiveness and retribution. Opens tomorrow at DCAC. 301/515-4494.NOW PLAYING• Eubie! — Olney Theatre Center — **. Director Tony Parise’s revamped edition of the original 1978 Broadway production, a celebration of the legacy of the famous black Baltimorean musical pioneer Eubie Blake, sputters when it should sizzle. Just two of the nine cast members show any skill at tap-dancing. The ensemble, in ill-fitting costumes, shows so little affinity for Mr. Blake’s catchy ditties or even the complexities of ragtime music that they might as well be singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Pitch problems, wobbly vocals and a few instances of miscasting make ragtime a drag time in this “Eubie.” Through April 29. 301/924-3400.• The Heidi Chronicles — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — ***. Arena Stage revives the late Wendy Wasserstein’s 1989 work, about women struggling with identity and compromise from the 1960s to the cusp of the 1990s, with a deft touch and edgy darkness. Director Tazewell Thompson and an on-fire cast depict the stages in these women’s lives with conviction — especially the consciousness-raising and sisterhood movement of the 1970s — which gives the scenes power and clarity. It’s a warm and affectionate tribute to the late playwright that asks whether things are actually better for women today or if their subjugation is more subtly ingrained. Through May 13. 202/488-3300.• Meet John Doe — Ford’s Theatre — ** . This uneven new work, a world-premiere musical adaptation of Frank Capra’s classic 1941 film — about a Depression-era schmo who becomes a beacon of hope when he steps into the role of a fictional Everyman cooked up by a newspaper columnist — shows how difficult it is to craft a stage musical. Theatrical artistry abounds, but music and lyrics are doggedly unmemorable, the play’s structure is awkward and neither of the lead characters is convincing. You just don’t buy it. Through April 29. 202/347-4833.• The Pillowman — Studio Theatre — ****. The images in “The Pillowman” are ghastly enough to make even John Waters, the prince of puke, want to lose his lunch. Sick, twisted, profoundly disturbing — these are high accolades for Martin McDonagh’s Grand Guignol masterpiece about the power of story. Mr. McDonagh, a playwright who usually confines himself to squalid visions of modern Ireland, turns to the horror genre for “The Pillowman,” giving Stephen King and Clive Barker fierce competition with 10 grisly little stories he concocts as a through line for a theatrical work that moves as seamlessly as a morbid musical under Joy Zinoman’s thrilling direction at Studio Theatre. Through April 29. 202/332-3300.• She Stoops to Comedy — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***. David Greenspan’s tongue-in-cheeky farce, a vastly entertaining gender-bending play within a play, is about the creative process of writing and staging a play as well as a riotous pastiche of allusions to Shakespeare’s cross-dressing romantic comedies; to Anton Chekhov, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein; and to the campy drag works of Charles Busch and Charles Ludlam. Artistic director Howard Shalwitz maintains an atmosphere of carefully controlled mayhem, knowing when to hem in the cast and when to let them go brilliantly bonkers. It gets bogged down a bit in the disjointed second act, but when it’s firing on all cylinders there isn’t a funnier or more exuberantly acted show in town. Through April 29. 202/393-3939.• That Championship Season — American Century Theater — **. Jason Miller’s hairy-chested 1972 play, about the 20th reunion of a high school basketball coach and his winning team that sinks beneath self-loathing and dissension, seethes with the acrid anger of men who blame everyone and everything but themselves. This intense and uneven production, set now in a small Southern city with an all-black cast, doesn’t try to temper the work’s salty language and vehemently anti-Semitic and misogynistic sentiments. The acting acumen varies erratically, with stumbling and sub-par performances from most of the cast. More consistent acting would have helped, but as it stands it isn’t even a contender. Through April 28 at Gunston Theater II. 703/553-8782. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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