- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007


• After Darwin — Journeymen Theater Ensemble. A comic play-within-a-play about a director who is casting a production about the conflict between Darwin and a creationist colleague. Opens tomorrow at the Church Street Theater. 202/669-7229.

• The Pillowman — Studio Theatre. A writer’s dark fables come to life and are the only clue to a string of recent murders. Opens Wednesday. 202/332-3300.

• 37 Stones, or the Man Who Was a Quarry — Charter Theatre. Mark has 38 comedic problems: The first 37 are recurring kidney stones and the 38th is his mother. Opens tomorrow at Theater on the Run. 703/409-2372.


• 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 Sunday. 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 Sunday. 301/924-3400.

• 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 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.

• 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. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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