- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

OPENING

• The Hostage — Keegan Theatre at the Church Street Theater — The IRA takes an innocent British soldier hostage in Brendan Behan’s play with music, set in a rowdy Dublin brothel. Opens Thursday. Through March 29. 703/892-0202.

• Major Barbara — Shakespeare Theatre Company — A Salvation Army major, Barbara Undershaft, finds her idealism tested in George Bernard Shaw’s exploration of poverty, faith and justice. Opens Tuesday. Through March 23. 202/547-1122.

• My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy — Bethesda Theatre — Steve Solomon’s one-man off-Broadway show is touted as one part lasagna, one part kreplach and two parts Prozac. Opens Thursday. Through March 26. 301/657-7827.

• Sabina Spielrein — Theater J, Goldman Theater — Swiss actress Gabriella Rossi’s one-woman monodrama about the Russian-Jewish psychiatrist who inspired Freud and Jung only to be murdered by the Nazis. Presented in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland. Monday and Tuesday only. 202/237-8109.

• Southside — DreamCity Theatre Group at The Mead Theatre Lab, Flashpoint — Staged reading of a theatrical documentary that follows one child’s journey from naive student to convicted killer. Thursday through Feb. 24. 202/315-1340

NOW PLAYING

• Argonautika — Shakespeare Theatre Company ——***1/2 Mary Zimmerman’s “Argonautika” will enchant you with its stately, lustrous beauty and robust humor. The Apollonian spirit is very much present in the classic lines and serene composition of Miss Zimmerman’s luminous adaptation of the classic Greek myth of a hero’s epic journey. The production could have used some trimming, especially a leisurely first act that makes the tragic denouement concerning Medea’s actions when faced with Jason’s waning loyalty seem rushed and hasty. The actors are mostly in fine form, keeping up with the stringent physical and aesthetic demands of the production while still conveying warmth and humanity. The exception to this is Jake Suffian’s Jason, who comes off as remote and chillingly unreachable. Through March 2. 202/547-1122.

• Ella — Arena Stage in Crystal City — *** Discreet insights into the inner life of Ella Fitzgerald are mined in this musical bio-play, although nothing particularly surprising is revealed, for as in life, it is the performances of Miss Fitzgerald’s hits that give the show its emotional highs rather than the spectacle of a cultural icon spilling her guts. Tina Fabrique lends her supple contralto to spot-on interpretations of Miss Fitzgerald’s signature sound that are more than mimicry. The astonishing thing is that she does not do note-for-note impressions but gives us a robust flavor of the singer’s distinctive delivery and the progression of her sound from the early days of novelty songs and big-band music to the wild and poetic scatting of bebop. “Ella” is a musical revue loosely grouped around the flimsy premise of Miss Fitzgerald and her band rehearsing and performing at a 1966 concert in Nice, France. The autobiographical aspects are sketchy and somewhat gauche; at times, you feel you are biding time until the next song. The litheness of Miss Fabrique’s powerhouse vocals is reason enough to see “Ella,” even if the show could have used more decorum, which characterized Miss Fitzgerald’s music and public life, and less Sturm und Drang, which didn’t. Through Feb. 24. 202/488-3300.

• Glory Days —Signature Theatre — *1/2 Retribution, apathy and nostalgia collide in the slight but engaging world premiere musical “Glory Days” by Washington-area wunderkinds Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner. The two 23-year-olds friends since high school have collaborated on a pop-rock musical, savvily directed by Eric Schaeffer, that affectingly reflects on that awkward time after freshman year of college where you feel caught between being a child and taking those first, tenuous steps into independence and young adulthood. The score is in the derivative Jonathan Larson pop vein, with the endless crescendos and the escalating harmonies of the boy-band era. The thing about this music — which seems so ‘90s is that it is “rock” sanitized by Broadway traditions and, as a result, is something a young person would probably never listen to or perhaps even hear. There are a few songs of clever promise the sarcastic charge of the lyrics in “Generation Apathy,” for example and the young cast sings the score with all the brio and testosterone-fueled bravado they can muster. Through Sunday. 703/820-9771.

• Lost and Foundling — Imagination Stage — **** Eric R. Pfeffinger’s sharply observed play for young audiences combines big-box-store ambience with a retail fairy tale about a 10-year-old “princess” who is abandoned and left to grow up in a Mega Price-Mart. Raised by the sales associates Pryce (Taisha Cameron) is doted on by the staff, who teach her the fine art of cleaning up throw-up. The entire inventory is at Pryce’s disposal and the aisles are her playground, so it’s natural that her first word would be “affordable.” Life moves smoother than a “15 items or less” checkout line until Pryce turns 10 and starts to wonder where she came from and whether there is life beyond the store’s automatic doors. Her trek from the break room to the lost and found counter includes a hilarious lessons in the etiquette of free food, lots of Wal-Mart references and allusions to the all-consuming joys of shopping. The accomplished cast and Mr. Pfeffinger’s spoofy and goofy updating of fairy-tale traditions all add up to a big “ka-ching” for Imagination Stage. Through March 2. 301/280-1660.

• Swimming in the Shallows — Catalyst Theater at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop — *** This postmodern screwball comedy is about three couples trying to make their way through the rocky shoals of relationships, possessions and obsessions. Its structure is mostly episodic in the classic sitcom or romantic comedy tradition, but the mold is broken in a series of demented dream sequences that reveal the loopy inner workings of the characters. Playwright Adam Bock’s gift for surreal madness and ripsnorting repartee is reminiscent of early Christopher Durang, but he also departs from irony and sarcasm with deeply poetic passages describing everyday scenes. Most of the cast moves deftly between the slapstick and the finer feelings, but an overall inconsistency in acting does make for some rough passages. Through March 8. 800/494-TIXS

• Trad — Solas Nua at Flashpoint — *** Caring for an aging parent takes on the dimension of comic yearning with “Trad,” Irish playwright Mark Doherty’s entertaining and wistful yarn about a 100-year-old man’s late-in-life epic quest with his feckless son. Think “Don Quixote” without the Spanish heat, or “Waiting for Godot” without the tree in this soulfully engaging production about a garrulous geezer determined to pass on family stories, many fantastically hyperbolic, before he dies. Mr. Doherty has a comedy and stand-up background, which shows in the Abbott and Costello-like patter and there is a music hall rhythm to the pair’s well-worn exchanges that is so outrageous it recalls the Monty Python troupe at its most absurd. “Trad” wryly revels in its Irishness, yet its gently humorous meditation on how present and future generations sculpt and contest a country’s identity resonates in any culture. Through Sunday. 800/494-TIXS

• 5 Questions for a Jewish Mother — Theater J — **** The quintessential yenta is the inspiration for Judy Gold’s wildly funny and affecting one-woman play, which will have tears of laughter and poignant recognition rolling down your cheeks. Based on her mom, Ruth’s ferocious, anxiety-riddled love for her children, the play incorporates choice bits from Miss Gold’s stand-up act with deft, pain-etched portrayals of some of the Jewish women she and co-writer Kate Moira Ryan met during their research. While Ruth is a marvelous piece of work, “25 Questions” reaches another level of artistry with its depictions of the other women interviewed. They range from Orthodox mothers who insist they would sit shiva if their children married outside the faith to Holocaust survivors. In between, Miss Gold talks about her journey and running as far away as she could from her smothering, religious childhood. “The 25 Questions” is a beautifully detailed, deeply felt exploration of identity as Miss Gold moves from denial to accepting that she is indeed a Jewish mother herself — and proud of it. Through Feb. 24.

—MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

— Jayne Blanchard


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