- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 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 Oct. 4. 703-573-7328.

EclipsedWoolly Mammoth Theatre — ★★★½ Woolly Mammoth’s production, directed by South African native Liesl Tommy, is about as good as it gets. The acting is astonishing, and Veronika Vorel contributes an evocative aural collage of Afro-pop and battle sounds. “Eclipsed” sheds light on five women, three of whom are the abducted wives of a Liberian rebel commander. Like the hierarchy of a wealthy Chinese family, the women are first known only by their ranking. No. 1 Wife (Uzo Aduba) is the oldest and has been in the compound the longest; she rules the pregnant No. 3 Wife (Liz Femi Wilson) and newcomer No. 4 Wife (Ayesha Ngaujah) an iron fist, and there is plenty of rivalry and squabbling among the three. No. 2 Wife (Jessica Frances Dukes) has fled the compound to become a ferocious, glamorous rebel soldier. She recruits No. 4 into the army and into the banality of violence, to harrowing effect. Their lives are further shook up when a peace worker, Rita (Dawn Ursula), arrives at the compound. Through Sunday. 202/393-3939.

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 Oct. 4. 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 Oct. 18. 703/548-9044

Phedre — Shakespeare Theatre — ★★★★ There seemed to be a communal intake of breath during the nearly two intermission-less hours of “Phedre.” Such is the power of the National Theatre of Great Britain’s riveting production of Jean Racine’s 17th-century classic tragedy starring Helen Mirren as the Athenian queen diseased by her consuming love for her stepson. As played with majestic torment by Miss Mirren, Phedre is no common cougar. She does not lustily seduce Hippolytus (Dominic Cooper) after believing her husband, Theseus (Stanley Townsend) to be dead. Instead, it is the mere thoughts of forbidden fruit that pollute her body and soul and cause the domino-tumble of horrific events that follows. Through Saturday. 202/547-1122.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard and Kelly Jane Torrance

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