- The Washington Times - Friday, July 17, 2009


The Color PurpleKennedy Center Opera House — ★★★½ Does an “American Idol” have the chops to pull off a major role in an emotionally complex musical? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Fantasia, winner of the 2004 competition, has the voice and the presence to make an indelible Celie in the musical version of Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Like the novel, the musical centers on Celie’s struggles and her letters to God, as well as the women who figure in her life: her sister Nettie ( La Toya London), who is determined to escape a life of victimization and drudgery; the free-wheeling blues singer Shug Avery (Angela Robinson) beloved by both Celie and the abusive Mister (Rufus Bonds Jr.); and the inimitable Sofia (Felicia P. Fields), the pugilistic, takes-no-guff wife of Celie’s stepson Harpo (Stu James). With its strengthening message and richness of emotion, “The Color Purple” is truth in the footlights. Through Aug. 9. 800/444-1324

Dark Play or Stories for BoysForum Theatre at H Street Playhouse — ★★★½ Carlos Murillo’s “Dark Play or Stories for Boys” delves into the cultivation and exploitation of online fantasy personalities with chilling and sometimes comic results. Teenage loner Nick (James Flanagan) is a cybermanipulator of self-professed “comic book superhero dexterity.” Bored with creating dream girls to tease frustrated boys on AOL, Nick concocts the ultimate method of testing the “gullibility threshold” of his fellow man. His subject is schoolmate Adam (Brandon McCoy), a nice, gullible kid who states in his Web profile, “I want to fall in love.” Deeper than a condemnation of the power of the Internet, “Dark Play” is at heart a warped romance that reveals the depths to which people are willing to descend to be loved. Through Aug. 2. 202/489-1701

King LearShakespeare Theatre — ★★★ Fathers and daughters grapple for domination in director Robert Falls’ sex- drugs- and rock-‘n’-roll-charged production at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Originally staged at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Mr. Falls’ vision of Shakespeare’s vengeful tragedy about the violent follies of youth and old age eschews the classical fairy tale about ungrateful offspring in favor of an in-your-face approach that centers on politics — sexual, familial, power. Sexual frankness (there is not only nudity, but also depictions of various sex acts and rape) is one of the aspects of this challenging production, but more darkly disturbing is the preponderance of wartime horrors and abuses of power. Stacy Keach makes an interesting Lear, but not a great one. Through July 26. 202/547-1122.

Lyle the CrocodileImagination Stage — ★★★½ Based on two picture books by Bernard Waber and adapted by Minnesota playwright Kevin Kling, the play has an upbeat message about liking people (and other creatures) simply for who they are that will warm up even the most coldblooded humans when coupled with the impishly ingratiating personality of the title character. Who wouldn’t want some croc like Lyle, as lovingly personified by Matthew McGloin in a gymnastic and inventive performance, hanging around? Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer. Through Aug. 9. 301/280-1660.

Radio GolfStudio Theatre — ★★★ The final installment in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle depicting black life throughout the 20th century takes place in 1997. Directed by Ron Himes, the production is rendered with a sincerity that does not completely capture the play’s dynamism. “Golf” takes place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and depicts wealthy upper-class blacks striving to become richer and more powerful. Harmond Wilks (Walter Coppage) aspires to be the city’s first black mayor, and his social-climbing friend and business partner Roosevelt Hicks (Kim Sullivan) wants to be a radio magnate as well as head honcho for their urban-redevelopment project — which would raze much of the community. Nothing seems to stand in their way, except that one of the houses slated for demolition is 1839 Wylie Ave. — which fans of Mr. Wilson’s plays will remember as the home of Aunt Ester, the neighborhood healer who was as old as slavery. Through Sunday 202/332-3300.

Spring AwakeningEisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center — ★★★★ This Tony Award-winning show proves that rock musicals can shimmer with substance and authenticity. Adolescent angst and antsiness permeate “Spring Awakening,” which seems brashly of the moment but actually is based on a once-banned 1891 drama by German playwright Frank Wedekind. Subtitled “A Children’s Tragedy,” the expressionistic work portrays the ways in which a repressive culture can stifle and sometimes snuff out youthful spirit. Considered shocking in its day (and still packing an unsettling wallop), “Spring Awakening” addresses incest, abuse, suicide, abortion, teen sexuality and masturbation. Duncan Sheik’s astonishing music — ranging from dreamlike ballads to driving, almost religious rock anthems — provides an emotional outlet for expressing the tumult of puberty. Wedekind meant “Spring Awakening” to illustrate the effects of provincialism and overprotectiveness on future generations. This message has modern resonance, for as the characters in “Spring Awakening” so vividly show, keeping teenagers in the dark about sex only spirals into other, deeper kinds of darkness. Through Aug. 2. 202/467-4600


Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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