- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007


• Family Secrets — Theater J. The story of a Jewish family transplanted from the Bronx to Southern California. Opens Wednesday. 800/494-8497.

• Insurrection: Holding History — Theater Alliance. Before 189-year-old TJ dies, he wants his great-great-grandson to take him back to Virginia in this time-bending comic fantasy. Opens tonight at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.


• Carnival! — Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater — ***1/2. This vibrant and splendidly circusy production of the 1961 charmer about a naive village girl who joins a French traveling circus — based on the 1953 MGM movie “Lili” — makes you wonder why the show is not revived more often. The story of the sheltered waif who learns of the world’s magic and malice as she falls for the troupe’s magician has a sophisticated score and heartfelt lyrics, a lollipop-hued set design, capricious and lavishly embellished costumes and some standout performances — not to mention acrobats, aerialists, rough but fetching roustabouts and a dancing bear on roller skates. With its utter lack of guile, there is something deeply captivating about Lili shedding illusions but retaining what makes her special. Through March 11. 202/467-4600.

• The Constant Wife — Olney Theatre Center — ***. Somerset Maugham’s upper-crust comedy, set in 1920s London, gives us the privileged wife of a successful London surgeon who sees his affair with her close friend as a chance for elegant revenge. In a refined and sprightly production, the play deals with adultery and the ice-capped circuitry of the female mind by cloaking everything in elegant wit and tasteful wealth. The actors deliver their lines with exquisite drollery, yet at times it is almost too polite; everyone tries so hard at brittle chicness you feel trapped in a room of rarefied, dead air. Through March 11. 301/924-3400.

• Gem of the Ocean — Arena Stage, Fichandler Theater — ***. Devotees of the late playwright August Wilson’s depiction of emerging identity among 20th-century black Americans have looked for Aunt Ester to come out from the wings since she was first mentioned in 1992’s “Two Trains Running.” She finally appears, a vibrant 285 years old, in this 2004 play set in 1904 Pittsburgh, receiving its local premiere under the clear-cut direction of Paulette Randall. Portrayed with guile and grace by Lynnie Godfrey, Ester takes a young man who wants to have his soul cleansed on a metaphysical journey to a graveyard kingdom made of the skeletons of those who drowned on the way to America. The actors struggle with voice projection and have a hard time establishing the fluid rhythms of the relationships so essential to Mr. Wilson’s work. What prevails is Mr. Wilson’s abiding humanism and lyricism — and, of course, Aunt Ester. She is well worth the wait. Through March 18. 202/488-3300.

• Junebug and the Reverend — Imagination Stage — ***. Martha King De Silva’s gentle, disarming play is drawn from three books by Alice Mead, who based them on her experiences working in the housing projects in New Haven, Conn. Ten-year-old Junebug, newly the man of the house for his mother and sister because his father is in prison, sets out to find mentors in his new neighborhood and to lay some of his burden down. A world premiere directed with great empathy by Kathryn Chase Bryer, it’s a show about resilience and everyday heroics: No one comes to Junebug’s rescue. He has to figure it out for himself. And by learning to trust and ask for support, Junebug moves from visions of disaster to calmer waters. Through March 25. 301/280-1660.

• Kid-Simple: a radio play in the flesh — Forum Theatre and Dance — ***1/2. The art of noise is the focus of Jordan Harrison’s wholly original work, a blend of old-fashioned aural narrative and new technology stunningly staged with an intense appreciation for both the classical and experimental. Its heroine is a budding mad scientist who wins the science fair with an invention that lets people hear sounds previously unheard. When it is swiped for evil purposes, she and her nerdy sidekick go on a quest to retrieve it and save the world. This fantasy world intersects with a pulpy mystery radio show she listens to with her parents. The show is a blitzkrieg for the ears and eyes, but at an hour and 45 intermission-less minutes, it is almost too much of a good thing. Through March 4 at Round House Theatre Silver Spring. 800/494-8497.

• Richard III — Shakespeare Theatre Company — ***. Ever since Shakespeare put quill to paper, “Richard III” has symbolized treachery and tyranny. Director Michael Kahn’s angular and brisk production presents Richard III as a blue-blooded assassin, but also as a consummate actor who assumes the roles necessary to get what he wants. And Geraint Wyn Davies’ Richard glitters with a malevolent charm. As silver-tongued as Satan, as flattering and goading as a celebrity publicist, Mr. Davies invites us to look beyond Richard’s disfigurements and see him as a lover, a warrior and a supple master of language. The cast is enormous and compelling, the production complex because of the tension between the death-march plot and the elusiveness of Richard III’s character. You’ll delight in this king’s dark company, even if you hate yourself for doing so. Through March 18. 202/547-1122.

• Trouble in Mind — CenterStage — ***1/2. Costume designer Catherine Zuber’s fitted suits, decorous little hats and stiff pocketbooks fairly scream the respectable 1950s, but the white gloves quickly come off in this blisteringly funny discourse on race and show-biz false faces. It’s a neglected gem from Harlem playwright Alice Childress, a founding member of the American Negro Theatre, that pulls back the curtain to reveal the behind-the-scenes sniping and subterfuge during rehearsals for an anti-lynching play, and it’s being staged with gleaming umbrage under the direction of Irene Lewis. Through Sunday at 700 North Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033.

• Vigils — Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ***1/2. Young playwright Noah Haidle eschews slice-of-life dramas in favor of the flagrantly imaginative and surreal, and this absurdist, randy work concerns itself with the oddball interior life of a firefighter’s widow who cannot let go of his body or soul. Torn between his memory and the possibility of real love — and sex — with a live suitor, she opts for a selfless act that liberates both the quick and the dead. The play is deeply rooted in emotion and raunchily funny at the same time, and the production, directed by D.C. newcomer Colette Searls, bursts with off-color and off-kilter energy. It also exhibits the best use of the commodious new space since Woolly’s opening last season. Through Sunday. 202/393-3939.


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