- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

NOW PLAYING

The Civil WarFord’s Theatre — ★★½ The 1998 musical “The Civil War” is a song-cycle with lyrics based on actual Civil War-era letters and diary entries, sung at Ford’s by a cast of 16, whose ensemble singing is consistently fine. The drama of this oratorio, directed with an eye toward current tastes by Jeff Calhoun, is heightened by sepia-toned projections of photos from the war and haunting archival images of the people. Composer Frank Wildhorn’s sensibility lies firmly in popular music, mainly Southern rock and contemporary country, with a little gospel thrown in here and there to get the audience stirred up. There is an emphasis on rousing pop anthems — the kind sung by Bob Seeger — which works electrifyingly in the numbers “Old Gray Coat” and “Last Waltz for Dixie,” but after a while, everything tends to blend in a blur of vague passion. Through May 24. 800/899-2367.

IonShakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall — ★★★★ Fresh. Bright. Fun. Not words usually said in connection with Greek tragedy. Yet this staging of Euripides’ “Ion,” under the joyful direction of Ethan McSweeny, is more sunny than sorrow-struck. But wait, there’s more — a happy ending. “Ion” concludes not with a pileup of bloodstained bodies, but with the catharsis of laughter, song and reunited families. This modern staging of a 2,500-year-old play provides a Parthenon of pleasures in a mere 90 minutes. Through Sunday. 202/547-1122.

King of the JewsOlney Theatre — ★★ Set in the Astoria Cafe, a Jewish-run nightclub in Poland’s Lodz ghetto during the Nazi regime, “King of the Jews” is an existential take on Holocaust atrocities that contains elements of Sartre and Beckett. But it’s also a study of desperate human behavior you might see in a classic Agatha Christie drawing-room murder mystery. It doesn’t seem proper to slam a Holocaust play, but “King of the Jews” suffers from its bipolar swing between lightheartedness and unmitigated misery. The comedy does not work onstage, and it seems deranged that people would be cracking bad Borscht Belt jokes moments before death. Through Sunday. 301/924-3400.

LysistrataRosslyn Spectrum — ★★★★ Revel in the frisky side of celibacy and forced abstinence in a flirty and deliciously bawdy new adaptation of Aristophanes’ sex comedy, “Lysistrata,” an inspired collaboration between Synetic Theater and Georgetown University’s Theater and Performance Studies Program. Synetic’s trademark articulate, movement-based theater can be seen in the production’s choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili, a sinuous swirl of undulating hips and arms, arabesques and balletic extensions. Through April 26. 202/687-2787 or 800/494-8497.

Stoop StoriesStudio Theatre — ★★★ Front steps and a plastic milk crate. That’s all performer Dael Orlandersmith needs to conjure up a city crammed with characters and ghosts from the past in her one-woman show, directed by Jo Bonney for its world premiere. The 70-minute show combines spoken-word poetry and dramatic monologues to take audiences on a walk on the wild side through the streets of New York — from the Harlem of Miss Orlandersmith’s youth to the downtown scene so far removed from uptown it could be another country. “Stoop Stories” begins, naturally, on a stoop, as Miss Orlandersmith remembers a street scene where people lived their lives outside on the front steps — talking, laughing, flirting, listening to music, fixing their hair. While the show still seems to be in the process of shaping and refinement, it is nonetheless an engaging and keenly observed glimpse into the people you might pass on the street without a second thought. Through Sunday. 202/332-3300.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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