The Beard of Avon — Rorschach Theatre. Will Shakespeare, a country simpleton who longs for something more than his barn in Stratford, escapes with an acting troupe only to find himself a pawn of the Earl of Oxford, who uses him as a front man for his previously unproducible plays. Opens Saturday at the Calvary Methodist Church. 800/494-8497.
The Beginning of Summer — Quotidian Theatre Company. American playwright Horton Foote’s play about a shattered marriage in a small Texas community in 1955. Opens tomorrow at The Writer’s Center. 301/816-1023.
The Body Project — Horizons Theatre. An original full-length musical that explores the ways in which girls and women view their bodies in an appearance-obsessed culture. Opens tonight at the Warehouse Next Door. 703/578-1100.
Much Ado About Nothing — Folger Theatre. Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick fight with all their might not to fall in love while Hero and Claudio surrender to romance. Opens tomorrow. 202/554-7077.
Aida — Toby’s Dinner Theatre — ***. The Elton John-Tim Rice version of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera is a pastiche of Broadway belters, easy-listening rock ‘n’ roll and pop balladry. Yet the story of a princess caught between trying to save her people and her love for a conflicted Egyptian soldier packs an emotional wallop. Credit a deeply felt, wrenching performance by Felicia Curry as the Nubian-princess-turned-Egyptian-slave Aida, and equally affecting acting and singing by Russell Sunday as the soldier Radames and Janine Gulisano as Amneris, the third side of the tragic love triangle. Through Nov. 20. 301/596-6161. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Born Yesterday — Fichandler Theater, Arena Stage — ***. Arena’s flamboyant, fun production of Garson Kanin’s 1946 comedy evokes postwar America as a “can-do” country full of unlimited possibilities. It makes you believe that a junkyard baron who comes to Washington to buy a couple of senators who can help him gain global scrap metal domination can be bested by even unlikely forces for good — namely, his ditzy blonde mistress and a good-guy reporter. Suli Holum gives a scene-stealing portrayal of dumb-blonde Billie and Jonathan Fried scarily captures the bullying menace of his junkyard scoundrel. The beguiling show makes you long for a time when good people triumphed over the craven and uncouth. Through Nov. 6. 202/488-3300. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Cinderella — Imagination Stage — ***. British playwright Charles Way’s take on this classic is set in 18th-century Germany yet has a modern sensibility. Cinderella, mourning her mother’s loss and forced to wait on her father’s new wife and her shrieking, high-maintenance new stepsisters, so wallows in grief she closes her eyes to all the opportunities in front of her — including Prince Sebastian. The production is shot through with humor, with some blatantly comic moments. Even with realistic characters, it remains the classic tale of put-upon servant transformed into poised, empathetic princess. Through Nov. 6. 301/280-1660. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Dracula — Synetic Theater — ****. The lobby walls of the Rosslyn Spectrum are dripping blood, strings of scarlet fabric oozing down to the floor. And Synetic Theater’s fever-dream vision of the Dracula legend delivers — and then some — in an erotic and highly charged production directed by Paata Tsikurishvili, with sensuous choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili. This is a perfect project for Synetic, bringing together the intrinsic theatricality of the vampire myth with the troupe’s original blend of movement, dance, spoken word, music and dazzling visuals. Not since the heyday of Anne Rice’s vampire Lestat novels have we seen such a sexy and epic look at the undead. You’ll start wishing they sold garlic necklaces at the concession stand. Through Oct. 30 at the Rosslyn Spectrum. 202/462-5364. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again — Metro Stage — ***. Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay’s autobiographical work is an unabashedly loving tribute to his late mother, the earthy and effervescent Nana (Catherine Flye), to whom he credits his thirst for the dramatic. The story told by the Narrator (Bruce M. Holmes) is of life with his mother, from the time he was 10 to Nana’s later years. Nana was a drama course in an apron, a skilled storyteller who could make a trip to the grocery store seem like a five-act Greek tragedy, and Miss Flye is an ideal fit for the part. With her loopy, expressive body language and hectic delivery, Miss Flye can sell a story like nobody’s business. The play is about the power of imagination, how a mother’s frantic mind can conjure worlds far beyond experience. Through Nov. 27. 703/548-9044. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Morning’s At Seven — Olney Theatre Center for the Arts — ***. Paul Osborn’s gentle back-porch comedy gives us four quirky sisters who live within shouting distance of each other in a demure Midwestern town in the late 1920s. It’s a hen party, but the action is anything but snoozy: When a stranger arrives in their midst, long-kept resentments and secrets bubble to the surface. The play makes you nostalgic for big Sunday suppers and close-knit families, yet the play’s overarching feeling is that of tender solitude, with the characters alone in their grief, their insecurities and their secrets. The ensemble cast works beautifully and the production is enchantingly staged by director John Going. Through Oct. 30. 301/924-3400. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.
Othello — The Shakespeare Theatre — ***. In this emotionally charged new production, expertly directed by Michael Kahn, stars Avery Brooks and Patrick Page break new ground with their unconventional interpretations. Mr. Brooks’ brave portrayal of Othello is deep and comprehensive, adding sophistication and touching vulnerability to a seemingly two-dimensional character. Mr. Page as Iago conjures forth the icy instincts of a true psychopath, a loveless, guiltless individual caring little for the death and mayhem left in his wake. The ensemble cast adds notable heft. The result is a superb opening act for the company’s 2005-2006 season. Through Oct. 30. 202/547-1122. Reviewed by T.L. Ponick.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS