- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

OPENING

• Animal Farm — Synetic Theater. George Orwell’s satirical allegory about Soviet totalitarianism. Opens Saturday at Rosslyn Spectrum. 703/824-6200.

• Either Or — Theater J. A true-life wartime story of Kurt Gerstein, a young German caught on the wrong side of history. Opens Wednesday at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497.

• The Flu Season — Catalyst Theater Company. The story of burgeoning love in a psychiatric hospital. Opens Wednesday at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. 202/494-3776.

• In On It — Theater Alliance. Three men defy the laws of creation and destruction as they maneuver among three comedic realities. Opens tomorrow at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050

• Peter & Wendy — Arena Stage. J.M. Barrie’s tale of “Peter Pan” is reimagined with Asian puppetry and a Celtic musical score. Opens tomorrow. 202/488-3300.

NOW PLAYING

• The Director: The Third Act of Elia Kazan — Round House Theatre Silver Spring — ***. A confessional memoir by local writer and director Leslie A. Kobylinski, this one-man show is an impressionistic look into the mind of the brilliant Broadway/Hollywood director whose achievements were overshadowed by his decision to cooperate with investigators probing communist influence in Hollywood in the 1950s — and his consequent shunning by the artistic community for more than 40 years. Rick Foucheux gives a laser-sharp performance, but the unstructured play sheds no new light on this complicated man. Through May 13. 240/644-1100.

• 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 Sunday. 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 Sunday. 202/347-4833.

• The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!) — MetroStage — ****. Eric Rockwell and Joanne Bogart’s melodic and pun-filled parody of Broadway titans — Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jerry Herman, and Kander and Ebb — is an unabashed joy for devotees of musical theater. Directed with tongue-in-cheek razzle-dazzle by Larry Kaye, MetroStage’s peppy production gives you plenty of reasons to do the old soft shoe. In fact, you’ll probably want to return a few times to catch the stuff you might have missed from laughing too hard. Through June 3. 800/494-8497.

• 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 Sunday. 202/332-3300.

• St. Nicholas — Scena Theatre — **. The supernatural wafts through much of playwright Conor McPherson’s work. In this one-man show the Man (Brian Hemmingsen), a burned-out Dublin theater critic, becomes besotted with a young actress, falls in with a London vampire and ends up sucking blood — a small step for a drama critic, the playwright seems to suggest. The play conjures a woozy, atmospheric climate, but it is more a staged reading. The velvety rasp of Mr. Hemmingsen’s voice and the acidic gush of his anger go far to bring the Man to derelict life, but the spell is broken by Mr. Hemmingsen’s still grasping the script in his hands. His inability to be off book by this point compromises the power of the piece. Through May 6 at the Source Theatre. 703/683-2824.

• 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 Sunday. 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 Saturday at Gunston Theater II. 703/553-8782.

• Titus Andronicus — Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***. Hats off to the Shakespeare Theatre Company for having the courage to mount a new production of this bloody-minded curiosity, traditionally demeaned as Shakespeare’s worst play and very possibly not entirely written by the Bard. Kudos as well to director Gale Edwards and her highly skilled troupe of actors, who transform the drama’s two-dimensional roles into surprisingly complex character studies. This is not an evening for the squeamish, but the production subtly transforms the Bard’s gory revenge tragedy into an attack on the use of violence as a universal solution. Through May 20. 202/547-1122. — T.L. Ponick

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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