- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

NOW PLAYING

Dirty BlondeSignature Theatre — ★★★ This Tony-nominated musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2000 and is being restaged at Signature, is a raucous celebration of the risque movie queen and vaudeville star Mae West. It’s so good at defining Miss West’s raw appeal that one wonders why we need admirers to frame what’s a fascinating story on its own. “Dirty Blonde” — which gets its title from Miss West’s quip, “I made myself platinum, but I was born a dirty blonde” — isn’t the only recent dramatic work with this problem. “Julie & Julia,” in cinemas now, explores the life of iconic chef Julia Child through the lens of a contemporary Manhattanite inspired by her, and the film drags whenever Meryl Streep, who plays Miss Child, is off-screen. Its misguided framing device notwithstanding, “Dirty Blonde” works, so beguiling is Emily Skinner as the sexy siren at its center. Through Sunday 703-573-7328.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Ferdinand the BullImagination Stage — ★★★½ The flower-sniffing and kindhearted horned hero of Munro Leaf’s 1936 picture book “Ferdinand the Bull” has been brought to the stage in a stampede of color, music and flamenco dance in the rich musical adaptation by Karen Zacarias and Deborah Wicks La Puma. Miss Zacarias expands on the simple story by adding characters and additional plot entanglements without detracting from the sweetness of its central character or the main theme that standing up for who you are takes bravery beyond fighting. Ferdinand (Ricardo Frederick Evans) is a bull of a different stripe. The boy Danilo (Andrew Boza) is a kindred spirit — his overbearing, militaristic father Duque (Michael John Casey, hilariously loopy) wants him to be a toreador. But Danilo was born to dance. How Ferdinand and Danilo get out of the bullring and into their true selves is the main thrust of this anti-bullfighting tale. Through Nov. 1. 301/280-1660

The Quality of LifeArena Stage at Crystal City — ★★½ Arena Stage’s first show of the season does not come across as a play, but a cable talk show on an unusually atmospheric set. Not to denigrate the human suffering permeating Jane Anderson’s drama. It’s just that the way these issues are presented seems pat and manufactured. To say the cast goes beyond the confines of the script is an understatement. Annette O’Toole is astounding as the chatty, conflicted Dinah. As her husband, Kevin O’Rourke brings gentle comedy to Bill’s reticence. Johanna Day comes off like the sexy earth mother who has it all together until she makes you see the heartsickness of Jeannette. Stephen Schnetzer’s Neil is the play’s soul a man almost on the outskirts of life who still seeks undiminished passion. Through Oct. 18. 202/488-3300.

The Picture of Dorian GrayRound House Theatre — ★★★★ If you’re too poor or too prudent to sin, you might as well look at it. The deviance in this world-premiere play is depicted with remorseless beauty by director Blake Robison with an eye to the aesthetic and Dionysian. Oscar Wilde’s scandalous 1891 novel combines Faustian themes with gothic chills and ruminations on the purpose of art and the unassailable supremacy of youth and superficial beauty. Through Sunday 240/644-1100.

MoonlightStudio Theatre — ★★½ Harold Pinter’s wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, once noted that the playwright penned “Moonlight” as a livid meditation on the death of his mother. With Mr. Pinter’s own death last Christmas Eve, this melancholy and mournfully funny work takes on a deeper ache. As staged at Studio by Joy Zinoman, “Moonlight” becomes a gloomy tribute to death and disconnection. All of this unfolds in scenes that have a certain distant, decorous quality. There are no confrontations or expressions of impotent anger. Plenty of sourness is present, but the production lacks the epic sweep of sorrow and regret. Through Oct. 18. 202/332-3300

The Musical of MusicalsMetroStage — ★★★★ First presented in 2007, this razzle-dazzler hasn’t dimmed one watt. And with the addition of Matthew A. Anderson to the original cast of Janine Gulisano-Sunday, Bobby Smith and Donna Migliaccio, the star power and unabashed joy have even increased. Directed with high-energy cheekiness by Larry Kaye, “Musical of Musicals” lovingly parodies 50 years of Broadway conventions and song styles in less time than it takes to sit through “Les Miserables.” Through Nov. 1. 703/548-9044.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard

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