- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

OPENING

• Bach At Leipzig — Rep Stage. Seven organists compete for the most coveted music post in Europe in Leipzig, Germany, in 1722. Opens tomorrow at Howard County Community College. 410/772-4900.

• Meet John Doe — Ford’s Theatre. A musical adaption of Frank Capra’s film that sets a fictitious John Doe amid political and economic corruption. Opens tomorrow. 202/347-4833.

NOW PLAYING

• Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune — Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater — ***. The gulf between sex and intimacy is explored with earthy joie de vivre in Terrence McNally’s 1987 working-class fairy tale about a one-night stand in a cramped New York apartment that could turn into something lasting. Under the expert guidance of director David Muse and with two splendid actors (Kate Buddeke and Vito D’Ambrosio) in the title roles, its unbridled raunch and honesty grab you, as does the emotional, unretouched nakedness the actors are willing to display. The play is full of simulated sex and blue talk, but get beyond that and you have frightened people clinging to a tendril of hope. Through April 8. 202/488-3300.

• 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 Sunday. 202/488-3300.

• Insurrection: Holding History — Theater Alliance — ***. Playwright Robert O’Hara is just nervy enough to find the irreverent side of slavery. His 1996 play gives us a black graduate student who is working on a thesis about Nat Turner and, with his 189-year-old great-great-grandfather, time-travels back to Virginia and the days before Turner’s insurrection. Mr. O’Hara mixes camp and historical narrative to give us a reeling ride through the 1831 rebellion as well as contemporary issues of sexual and cultural identity. The rambunctious production features uninhibited performances by a talented cast, whose vibrant energy goes a long way in overcoming a sprawling, out-of-control script. Through March 25 at the H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.

• 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.

• 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 Sunday. 202/547-1122. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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