- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008


• Annie— Warner Theatre — The Broadway hit looks to a bright tomorrow in the midst of the Great Depression. Opens Tuesday. Through March 2. 202/397-SEAT

• The Brothers Karamazov — Theater Alliance at the H Street Playhouse — Director John Langs’ award-winning visionary approach to Anthony Clarvoe’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s classic novel. Opens Thursday. Through March 13. 202/399-7993

• The Chairs — Scena Theatre at the Warehouse Theater — Eugene Ionesco at his absurdist best, as an old couple chats with invisible guests. Opens Monday. Through March 30. 703/683-2824

• Macbeth — Folger Theatre — Blood and betrayal in Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy. Opens Thursday. Through April 13. 202/544-7077

• The Pirates of Penzance — Lang Theatre, Atlas Performing Arts Center — The Washingon Savoyards swash and buckle through Gilbert and Sullivan’s farcical operetta. Opens tomorrow. Through March 9. 202/399-7993


• 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.

• The Book Club Play —Round House Theatre — **1/2 Washington-area playwright Karen Zacarias’ new comedy aims at lofty literary meditations on the power of books to soothe souls and transform lives, but misses most of the targets. Best when it operates like a crowd-pleasing best-seller rather than when it tries to be like a quirky voice from a small press, the play looks at a year in the life of a long-standing book club that is being filmed by graduate students. The documentary device does have its merits, since the sublime Sarah Marshall plays all the interviewees, ranging from a National Public Radio commentator and a legless construction worker to a Wal-Mart book department manager whose favorite work is “Lolita,” which the store would never stock. The play moves into ditzier territory with the weaving of all the themes and twists into an epilogue that seems longer than the previous two acts. Here is where the preciousness of the writing becomes woefully evident and the severely episodic nature of the piece gets cumbersome. The actors seem daunted by the machinations of the epilogue and the ending, which is a stretch even for lovers of fiction. With her astutely observed characters and gift for capturing the finely tuned ludicrous behavior of self-involved people, however, “The Book Club Play” can be a joyous page-turner. Through March 2. 240/644-1100

• 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. Closes Sunday. 202/488-3300.

• 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 vomit. 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

• 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. Closes Sunday.


Jayne Blanchard

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