- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

NOW PLAYING

The AlchemistShakespeare Theatre Company — ★ You want to emerge from a comedy feeling lighter, as if your burden has been lifted temporarily. However, the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “The Alchemist” weighs you down with the resentment of losing 2½ hours you’ll never get back. In this year when we’re still smarting from Bernard Madoff’s billion-dollar Ponzi scheme and the dark work of other latter-day flim-flam men, you would think the play’s story about con artists and get-rich-quick rip-offs couldn’t be timelier. An alchemist has the ability to turn cheap metal into gold. However, this production never transforms itself into anything but the basest of elements. Through Sunday 202/547-1122

Angels in America, Part I: Millennium ApproachesForum Theatre at Round House Silver Spring — ★★★½ Although it was written in the early ‘90s and is set in the mid-1980s, many of the issues raised in Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic and intimate drama are as relevant and profound as ever. We’re still deeply divided politically between Republicans and Democrats, homophobia still exists, and gay rights have gained little ground. Director Jeremy Skidmore adeptly juggles the play’s exhilarating extremes — the lofty speeches about democracy and freedom and the almost painfully small moments between two people that are anything but. Playing in repertory with “Perestroika”; see www.forumtheatredc.org for full schedule. Through Nov. 28. 240/644-1100.

A Streetcar Named DesireKennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater — ★★½ Cate Blanchett’s Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ classic play is a fragile remnant of a fanciful plantation-era South that may never have existed in the first place. She doesn’t stand a chance of surviving when she arrives at the cramped New Orleans apartment of sister Stella (Robin McLeavy) and is dropped into Stella’s and husband Stanley Kowalski’s (Joel Edgerton) postwar, blue-collar world of poker games, beer, bowling and brawling. However, Miss Blanchett’s outsized portrayal of Blanche does not much resemble the flitty, doomed “moth” Williams had in mind when he wrote the character in 1947. As directed by Liv Ullmann, Miss Blanchett acts up a storm but fails to inhabit the character or make you see beyond histrionic technique. As a result, you never sympathize with Blanche or fall under her faded spell. Nor, in this gritty production, do you get a sense of Blanche’s humor and charm. Through Saturday. 202/467-4600

Full CircleWoolly Mammoth Theatre Company — ★★★ You may not fully understand “Full Circle,” but that shouldn’t stand in the way of a good time. Going with the flow is definitely in order in this roaming, multimedia movable feast of a production directed by Michael Rohd. Forget about the comfort zone. Audience members mingle with the actors and the action, and the play makes fine use of the entire Woolly Mammoth building. Free-wheeling, confrontational, unexpected — these words best describe Charles L. Mee’s fun and frequently irreverent rewriting of history and Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Set in Berlin at the time of the Wall’s fall in 1989, the comedy evokes the chaos and opportunities present in the New World Order and makes connections to the current economic crisis and fears that President Obama is taking our nation into socialism. Through Nov. 29. 202/393-3939

Jersey BoysNational Theatre — ★★★½ As a production polished to sequined sheen by director Des McAnuff, “Jersey Boys” is different on several levels. This documentary-style show traces the turbulent story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, who went from harmonizing street punks to ‘60s sensations and a berth in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Mr. Valli (Joseph Leo Bwarie) may sing like an angel, but he and the other members of the group were no saints. There’s also the music. If you’re a die-hard Four Seasons fan, the pitch-perfect renditions of “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Stay” and “Working My Way Back to You” will transport you back to a time of transistor radios and beach-blanket bingo. Through Dec. 12. 800/447-7400

Much Ado About NothingFolger Theatre — ★★½ A Caribbean lilt and a D.C. Carnival setting appear to be an inspired combination for Shakespeare’s sunny and sexy battle of wits between the sexes. Director Timothy Douglas sets Shakespeare’s wordplay-drunk romantic comedy in this urban-tropical atmosphere, and it works, for the most part. Having the male characters appear as D.C. cops and security personnel sets up an interesting tension between the partyers and the peacekeepers and also is fodder for some splendidly goofy physical clowning. However, the idea that hero Benedick (Howard W. Overshown) and his compadres Don Pedro (Tony Nam), Claudio (Alexis Camins) and the resentful Don John (Joel David Santner) are returning victorious from war and looking to let off a little steam before settling down is completely lost. Through Nov. 29. 202/544-7077

26 MilesRound House Theatre Bethesda — ★★★ Sitting in a theater and wishing you were in your car is probably not an artistic director’s fondest dream. However, road-trip wanderlust is precisely what Quiara Alegria Hudes’ delightful new work “26 Miles” evokes. And although you are not in the driver’s seat, this picaresque play at Round House, sensitively directed by KJ Sanchez, is a journey worth taking. Miss Hudes, a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nominee for the Broadway smash musical “In the Heights,” does not veer too far off the well-trodden path of the cross-country road trip. The classic scenario in “26 Miles” involves Olivia (Laura C. Harris), a 15-year-old girl from a small town in Pennsylvania who is smart and analytical and therefore suffering greatly during adolescence. Her estranged mother, Beatriz (Zabryna Guevara), is a Cuban-American who lost custody in a bitter battle with her ex (Michael Frederic). This finding-yourself-on-the-lost-highway scenario is hardly new, but Miss Hudes invigorates the genre with characters that are prickly, complicated and completely engrossing, as well as language that is frequently juicily poetic. Through Sunday 240-644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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