- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

NOW PLAYING

AceSignature Theatre — ★★ This new musical by composer Richard Oberacker and lyricist Robert Taylor, which seems destined for an aviation museum theater rather than the Broadway stage, depicts the shedding of emotional and past burdens so one can soar freely. Yet the show is weighted down with too many ambitions and subplots and an overriding sense of angst and malaise that keeps it from gaining altitude. “Ace” mainly suffers from an identity problem. Is it a singing recruitment poster for the Air Force? A mood piece about a sullen boy named Danny (Dalton Harrod) and his relationship with his suicidal mother, Elizabeth (Jill Paice)? Or is it a musical whodunit about Danny’s aeronautical heritage — which not coincidentally parallels the pioneering history of America’s air service during the two world wars? But even a top-notch cast; vibrant costumes by Robert Perdziola; a snazzy, streamlined steel set by Walt Spangler; and the gifted director Eric Schaeffer can make a Gulfstream jet out of this bucket of bolts. The score seems largely standard, and the lyrics are of the conversation-mimicking variety that fails to tell a story or reveal character through song. In order to fly right, “Ace” needs to straighten up and lighten the load. Through Sept. 28. 703/573-7328.

Maria/StuartWooly Mammoth — ★★ Jason Grote’s esoteric and earthy family drama is about as far removed from its German Romantic inspiration, Friedrich Schiller’s 1800 drama “Mary Stuart” (about the 16th-century’s Mary Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth I had executed to secure her claim to the throne) as you can get. Family rivalries are never pretty, but between middle-aged women, they are particularly unbecoming. Sisters Lizzie (Emily Townley) and Marnie (Amy McWilliams) grapple for supremacy on a boozy, profanity-laced battlefield, and they seem to have little regard for whom they sacrifice whether it is their adult children Stuart (Eli James) and Hannah (Meghan Grady); their old and addled mother, Ruthie (Sarah Marshall); or their supposedly psychotic younger sister, Aunt Sylvia (Naomi Jacobson, who manages to wade through the chaos and come up with a weirdly hilarious performance as a survivor who merrily spears junk food with her prosthetic hands). Because the writing is so incoherent, an air of desperation settles over the production and filters down to the actors, who are required to resolve conflict with food fights, spilled beverages and incongruous twists of fate. In “Mary/Stuart,” the supernatural and the sordid are an unholy pairing. It’s like asking Ray Bradbury to rewrite “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Through Sunday. 202/393-3939

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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