- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009


How Theater Failed AmericaWoolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ★★★½ American theater is in such dire straits and so unrelated to our daily lives that it makes print media seem like a Twitter update in comparison. How did live theater become the cultural equivalent of the pay phone? Gifted monologist Mike Daisey, who wowed audiences last summer with his brainiac “If You See Something Say Something,” takes on this taboo topic with scorching anger, humor and heart in his two-hour solo piece. Through Sunday. 202/393-3939.

Les MiserablesSignature Theatre — ★★★ The turntable? You hardly miss it in Signature Theatre’s emotive, blood-and-guts staging of the megamusical “Les Miserables,” directed by Eric Schaeffer and scaled down to fit in the 280-seat Max Theatre. Mr. Schaeffer’s visceral approach to the material differs from the unfolding magisterial spectacle of the Broadway show. At Signature, there’s no distance between you and the action, so you can almost smell the gunfire, the sweat of the great Gallic unwashed and the scent of spilled blood and red wine. Through Feb. 22. 703/573-7328

Next to NormalArena Stage at Crystal City — ★★★½ Mental illness is nothing to sing about, but the powerful new American musical “Next to Normal” finds melody and meaning in melancholia. More than a show about dysfunction, it’s about grief, loss and how memories are both a balm and a source of exquisite pain. At first glance, you might not want to rush to see characters belting out songs about bipolar disorder, psychopharmaceuticals and delusions, but Arena’s transcendent production, directed with unflinching honesty by Michael Greif, is truly the go-to show of the winter season. Through Sunday. 202/488-3300

West Side StoryNational Theatre — ★★★ In the case of the dynamic new revival of 1957’s “West Side Story,” it was a stroke of genius on the part of director Arthur Laurents (who wrote the original book and, at 91, is still coming up with fresh ideas) to have much of the dialogue and songs translated into Spanish. This revision not only gives “West Side Story” newfound naturalness and passion but heightens the emotion of this teenage gang romance between a Puerto Rican girl named Maria (Josefina Scaglione) lately arrived in America and Tony (Matt Cavenaugh) a Manhattan boy and leader of the street gang the Jets. A predominantly Latino cast portrays the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks and their molls — Kat Nejat is a standout as the coquettish Bebecita, especially in the show’s Alpha Girl rendering of “I Feel Pretty” — also adds to the show’s more authentic and less Broadway-fluff feel. Closing Saturday. 202/628-2947


Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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