• The Call of the Wild — Olney Theatre Center. Man and dog challenge the harsh, unforgiving landscape of the Far North in this musical adaptation of Jack London’s famous tale. Opens Wednesday. 301/924-3400.
• Well — Arena Stage. Mother knows best in this Tony-nominated comedy about childhood and family. Opens tomorrow.202/488-3300
• Lazarus Syndrome — Theater Alliance — **1/2. Bruce Ward’s warmly affecting world-premiere play delves into such issues as sexuality, business and personal failure and acceptance of heritage in the context of an extended family drama that features survivors not only of the AIDS epidemic, but of September 11 and the Holocaust. That’s a lot of tragedy for a 90-minute one-act, and it proves to be too much. The play nearly collapses from the forced emotional weight of exploring the guilt and burden of living for survivors. It’s enlivened by clever, arch dialogue, bursts of robust humor and a cast passionately invested in its characters. Through Sunday. 866/811-4111.
• Private Lives — Washington Shakespeare Company — ***. This gossamer-light staging of Noel Coward’s crystalline 1930 comedy — about a once-divorced upper-crust couple who rediscover each other in Deauville, France, and leave their new spouses to pick up the pieces — is modest but charming. Set in a cafe, it’s performed in a smallish room in the back of the Playbill Cafe, which puts the audience pretty much satiny cheek by jowl with the bejeweled, impeccably groomed characters onstage. Director H. Lee Gable packs class and sophistication into the production and makes good use of the small space. Add a couple of vivid portrayals, and you have the diamond-bright sparks that make “Private Lives” enduringly captivating. Through Sept. 23. 800/494-8497 • 33 Variations — Arena Stage — ***. A scholarly sleuth’s obsession with Ludwig van Beethoven is the subject of Moises Kaufman‘s play, which is suffused with the melodious strains and emotional heft of classical music. Inspired by Beethoven’s masterpiece, the “Diabelli Variations,” Mr. Kaufman investigated why the composer would devote four years to the composition at a time when he was ill and becoming increasingly deaf. His passionate curiosity is transferred to the character of Katherine Brandt (Mary Beth Peil), a dying musicologist who races against the clock to find the answer. The audience becomes intimately involved with her quest to discover what Beethoven really might have been thinking and feeling. Pianist Diane Walsh deftly interprets Beethoven, and the cast often bursts into song or inspired humming. Classical music lovers will be drawn into this dexterous exploration of musical inspiration and obsession. Through Sept. 30. 202/488-3300.
• The Unmentionables — Woolly Mammoth Theatre — *** ½. If this comedy had a slogan, it would be “Yankee, go home.” Directed with manic glee by Pam MacKinnon and featuring a uniformly superb cast, “The Unmentionables” asserts that not only should we go home, but we never should have left in the first place. America’s legacy in the play’s fictional West African nation is one of corruption, exploitation and woefully misguided altruism. A Christian missionary, a female TV star who wants “to do more,” a doctor with a conscience, and an opportunistic businessman and his chattering wife are among the characters whose good intentions and bad moves are exposed mercilessly without becoming mere caricatures of the “Ugly American.” The play is leavened by boisterous frenzy and cathartic laughs as it revels in juicily un-PC moments with potent wit and insight. Through Sept. 30. 202/393-3939. MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS