- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009


Ain’t Misbehavin’Olney Theatre Center — ★★½ Director Devron Young leads five promising and exuberantly high-energy performers tear through the repertoire of Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller, the gifted pianist and composer of the 1920s and ‘30s whose hits “Honeysuckle Rose” and “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” are hummable to this day. Olney’s Historic Stage is transformed into a Harlem nightclub from the 1930s, although the art-deco bandstand obscures the musicians and it looks as if the score is being played by a bunch of disembodied heads. While most of the troupe’s dancing is awkward, the athletic Leanto E. Jones performs a naughtily insinuating solo about the joys of weed in “The Viper’s Drag.” Through Aug. 9. 301/924-3400.

Barack StarsSecond City at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ★★★½ The storied improv troupe pokes holes in the puffed-up, deified image of the president in “Barack Stars,” a zany revue of zingers and blackout comedy Second City developed specifically for Woolly Mammoth and D.C. denizens. Obama (Sam Richardson, who has the president’s precise diction and elocution down pat) is portrayed as a superhero — “Fly Obama, fly!” his fans exhort — who takes himself ultraseriously and strives to come up with inspirational catchphrases that, in the words of one member of his staff, sound “hope-y.” Through Aug. 2. 202/393-3939.

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). 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. Stacy Keach makes an interesting Lear, but not a great one. Through Sunday. 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.

Spring AwakeningEisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center — ★★★★ Adolescent angst and antsiness permeate the Tony Award-winning “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. Through Aug. 2. 202/467-4600


Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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