• August Wilson’s 20th Century: Gem of the Ocean — Kennedy Center Terrace Theater — Staged readings by 30 well-known actors of the playwright’s cycle of 10 plays, each chronicling a different decade of the 20th century. “Gem of the Ocean” takes place at the century’s beginning. March 4, 5, 8 and 30. 202/467-4600
• August Wilson’s 20th Century: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone — Kennedy Center Terrace Theater — “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” takes place in the 1910s. March 6-8 and 30. 202/467-4600
• Last Days of the Killone Players — Keegan Theatre at Theater on the Run — The Celtic Tiger gobbles up even the remnants of Ireland’s community theater in Eric Lucas’ look at a dying art. Opens Thursday. Through April 5. 703/892-0202, Ext. 2
• All That I Will Ever Be — Studio Theatre — ** Alan Ball, who wrote the screenplay for “American Beauty” and the HBO series “Six Feet Under,” is known for his skillful exposure of shallowness and bad behavior among America’s privileged classes. Here, true to form, the elite of L.A. deign to mingle with the rabble. There is no smoother operator than Omar, a hustler who purrs and becomes Iranian, Greek or Egyptian, confident that most Americans are so ignorant about geography, ethnicity and world history that his impostures will pass undetected. Trouble is, Omar (Carlos Candelario in a groundbreaking performance that is at once overtly physical and cerebral) has been lying so long he’s mislaid his identity. When he embarks on a romantic relationship with a perceptive pothead layabout, he strives for emotional honesty but finds baring his soul is completely different than baring his body. However, intimacy built on deceit is a mirage, and Omar finally realizes that the only thing he’s good for — and the only thing people want from him — is the illusion. While the play contains whip-smart dialogue and shockingly visceral language and sex acts, the play is an empty vessel — Neil LaBute lite. Everyone talks about emotional intimacy, but you never actually feel it. Ultimately, you wonder what Mr. Ball was striving for in this dispiriting diatribe on racial profiling and the selling of sex. Through March 9. 202/332-3300
• 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. Closes Sunday. 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 perates 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. Closes Sunday. 240/644-1100
• 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. Closes Sunday. 301/280-1660.
• My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m in Therapy — Bethesda Theatre — *** “Finiculi, Finicula” meets the “Hava Nagila” medley in Steve Solomon’s hilarious one-man show about the trials and tribulations of growing up both gentile and a member of the tribe. It’s a 90-minute glorified stand-up routine as Mr. Solomon regales the audience with stories about his colorful and eccentric parents and grandparents with the punch-line rhythms of a born-in-the-Borscht Belt funnyman. The choicest portions are dedicated to Mr. Solomon’s Jewish-Italian clan, the language barriers and the stress of dealing with various family members. He is at his most affectionate and comically affecting when talking about his grandmother, Bubbie, who calls her upper-arm flab “flaps” and remarks that her husband was “a mail-order bride who was damaged in shipping.” The show falters when Mr. Solomon hauls out tired stereotypes of women who turn frigid and witchy the second after the “I do’s” are exchanged. Thankfully, the “oy” moments are scarce, and “My Mother’s Italian” shows that growing up in a mixed household may result in twice the guilt, but there is three times the love and laughter. Through March 23. 800/551-SEAT.
• 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
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
— Jayne Blanchard