- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

OPENING

• August Wilson’s 20th Century: Fences — 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. “Fences” is set in the 1950s. Performances Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and April 4. All performances sold out. 202/467-4600

• August Wilson’s 20th Century: Seven Guitars — 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. “Seven Guitars” is set in the 1940s. Performances tonight, Saturday, Sunday and April 3. 202/467-4600

• August Wilson’s 20th Century: Two Trains Running — 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. “Two Trains Running” represents the 1960s. Performances Thursday and March 21, 25 and April 5. 202/467-4600.

• Bad Dates — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — A single mom moves from Texas to New York and re-enters a daunting dating scene. Opens Wednesday. Through April 20. 301/924-3400

• Death of a Salesman — Arena Stage Crystal City — Willy Loman takes stock of his life in Arthur Miller’s masterpiece. In repertory with “A View From the Bridge” as part of Arena’s Arthur Miller Festival. Opens tonight. Through May 18. 202/488-3300

• A View From the Bridge — Arena Stage Crystal City — An Italian-American longshoreman from Brooklyn betrays his family even as he tries to save it. In repertory with “Death of a Salesman” as part of Arena’s Arthur Miller Festival. Call for times. Opens March 21. Through May 18. 202/488-3300

NOW PLAYING

• 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 Los Angeles 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 has 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 from 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. Though the play contains whip-smart dialogue and shockingly visceral language and sex acts, the play is an empty vessel — Neil LaBute light. Everyone talks about emotional intimacy, but you never feel it. Ultimately, you wonder what Mr. Ball was striving to achieve in this dispiriting diatribe on racial profiling and the selling of sex. Extended through March 23. 202/332-3300

• Chasing George Washington — Family Theatre, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts — *** The dude on the dollar bill leaps to life in Karen Zacarias’ entertaining and sometimes inspiring children’s musical, which also features a spry score by Deborah Wicks La Puma that ably mixes hip-hop, disco, ballads and traditional show music. Any kind of tour can be a colossal bore for many schoolchildren, but “Chasing George Washington,” directed by John Vreeke, puts a warmly personal spin on the furnishings, paintings and egg-and-dart moldings found in the White House and many other historic buildings. The 60-minute musical shows the transformation of three children from unengaged lollygaggers to history buffs after a wrong turn leads them to a surprise encounter with big George (Harry A. Winter) himself — who has jumped down from his portrait to take the children through what he insists is “their” house. Closes Sunday. 202/467-4600

• Macbeth — The Folger Theatre — ***1/2 Houdini and haggis merge in Teller (the silent partner in the magic act Penn and Teller) and co-director Aaron Posner’s flamboyantly blood-soaked version of “Macbeth,” an exultant melange of Jacobean tragedy, Grand Guignol thrill show and manga comic book. “Macbeth” is one of Shakespeare’s shortest and most violent plays, and Teller takes this to gore-dripping heart with a production at the Folger that makes Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” seem merely a flesh wound. Severed heads populate the stage like skewered cherry tomatoes, and daggers seem naked when not slathered in crimson. The production’s teeming thrills and chills include Scottish assassins and ghosts popping up all over Daniel Conway’s two-level set (indeed, all over the theater), nerve-racking “Psycho”-like music by Kenny Wollesen and a nifty effect in the Banquo’s ghost scene (Banquo being played in this life and the next with sensitivity by Paul Morella). In many productions, the minor characters often seem like parts of a glorified body count, but the Folger’s staging contains many beautifully delineated performances, including some deftly boozy ruminating by the Porter (Mr. Hissom, in a dual role), Cody Nickell as the great-hearted warrior Macduff and Karen Peakes as the doomed but undaunted Lady Macduff. The pairing of Shakespeare and the magic of Teller is ingenious, providing the audience with spine-tingling moments pricked with ghoulish good humor. 202/544-7077. Sold out. Through April 13.

• Major Barbara — Sidney Harman Hall, Shakespeare Theatre Company — *** Undershaft, an amoral arms dealer, and his daughter, Major Barbara, a Salvation Army evangelist, take each other on in George Bernard Shaw’s classic work, and their battle is fought over the merits of wealth versus faith, hope and charity. The Shakespeare Theatre’s production, directed by Ethan McSweeny, keeps all these seemingly disparate elements aloft in a staging that frequently soars. Much of the production’s brainy buoyancy stems from the cast. Ted van Griethuysen (Undershaft) combines the blunt force of a successful plutocrat with an elegant carriage and extravagant delivery, and Helen Carey plays his haughty wife, Lady Britomart, with a formidable flair. The cast is so strong the actors nearly overpower the heroine (Vivienne Benesch, who possesses the intellect and conviction needed for Major Barbara). Partly because you never sense the beating heart under her starched uniform, this production of “Major Barbara” undermines Shaw’s probable intention: It plays as a frothy entertainment — with the audience clearly rooting on the side of avarice and big money — rather than a witty philosophical inquiry into whether poverty is a virtue or the unnecessary cause of all human suffering. Through March 23. 202/547-1122

• 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 that there is three times the love and laughter. Through March 23. 800/551-SEAT.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Jayne Blanchard

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