- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

OPENING

• Summer of ‘42 — Round House Theatre Bethesda. Hermie’s budding friendship with his next-door neighbor Dorothy causes him to confront adulthood and learn a lesson in life, love and the scope of human compassion. Opens Wednesday. 240/644-1100.

NOW PLAYING

• Blue/Orange — Theater Alliance — **1/2. An unhealthy obsession with oranges and a conviction that he’s Idi Amin’s son lead a London fruit vendor of African-Caribbean descent to be arrested and sent to a mental health facility. In Joe Penhall’s play, the vendor’s delusions become the battleground between a dedicated intern and his supervisor, who sees racism in the intern’s finding of schizophrenia. The acting is full of pyrotechnics, the dialogue is rapid-fire, and the atmosphere is tense, but it comes off as hot-air psychobabble and more of a blustering power game than a probing inquiry into labeling the mentally ill. Good acting can compensate only so much for one-dimensional characters that remain undeveloped. Through June 3 at H Street Playhouse. 202/396-0050.

• Either Or — Theater J — **1/2. Australian writer Thomas Keneally, author of the book behind the movie “Schindler’s List,” tries his hand at playwriting with this examination of one Nazi’s struggle to reconcile duty and morality. Kurt Gerstein (Paul Morella) was a brilliant chemist who helped develop the gas that killed Jews in Nazi concentration camps; he was also a Lutheran of conscience who tried to alert the Allies and the Vatican to the atrocities. Here Gerstein comes across not as a restless saint who evokes our sympathy, but as a self-serving man who tries to cleanse himself of the blood on his hands. Full of exposition and narrative in the first act, the play offers no emotional entry until the second half. And the scenes of searing, speechless intensity don’t make up for it. Through June 3 at the D.C. Jewish Community Center. 800/494-8497.

• 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 Oracle — African Continuum Theatre Company — **. This allegorical fable about a young African princess named Charlotte who sets off to find the god who made her father king is visually striking but emotionally subdued. Written by Ed Shockley and based on a George Bernard Shaw story, the tale involves Charlotte in some harrowing adventures before she makes her way home, meeting on the way entities represented mainly by African-mask wooden puppets. Erika Rose is a lively, sinewy presence as Charlotte. But the puppets are clumsily wielded, the masks are not put to dramatic use, and the dialogue is long-winded and Byzantine. The play shows off the capabilities of the Atlas’ new Sprenger Theatre, but the production seems small, emotionally stiff and uninspiring. Through June 3 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. 202/529-5763.

• Peter & Wendy — Arena Stage — ***. Mabou Mines’ production of J.M. Barrie’s novel, adapted with a breathless sense of wonder by Liza Lorwin, underscores the melancholy and poignant aspects of that tale of enchantment and stolen children. It’s brooding and profoundly magical. Karen Kandel, a narrator of infinite grace and nimbly comic voices, tells the story surrounded by veiled puppeteers, the whole set to Celtic music. The charm of the three-hour piece wears thin in scenes, and some of the puppetry manipulation is awkward, but it’s a heady, cerebral experience on many levels. Through June 24. 202/488-3300.

• The Tempest — Folger Theatre — ***. This unusual production, directed by Aaron Posner, features highly evocative special effects and fiddles with the cast of characters, almost eliminating comic figures to better focus on the principals. It’s a thoughtful evening of theater, presenting the Bard’s work as a moral, if ambiguous, treatise on peace, acceptance and forgiveness. Veteran Shakespeare fans will miss the emotional piquancy they have come to expect in this play. Through June 17. 202/544-7077. — T.L. Ponick

• Things of Dry Hours — Center Stage — ***. Naomi Wallace’s play is a poetic, romantic and politically explosive look at the role of Southern blacks in the American Communist movement of the 1930s. The play often has the dry, pedantic air of a lecture, so wordy it makes “Das Kapital” seem like a text message. Yet Miss Wallace layers the play in evocative language that is almost biblical in its intricate structure and rapturous style. Some of the scenes sizzle, and the acting is accomplished. Through June 3 at 700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore. 410/332-0033. • 13 Rue de L’Amour — Olney Theatre Center — *. Jeffries Thaiss, Lawrence Redmond, Nick de Pinto and Halo Wines add pizzazz to Georges Feydeau’s pouf-less and insipid French farce the infidelities of well-to-do couples and their paramours. But their talents cannot resuscitate a show that never manages to elicit even a soupcon of laughs. It’s a classic case of a bad play happening to good actors. Through June 10. 301/924-3400. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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