Mini Reviews

Friday, September 29, 2006

Mini Reviews

A star (*) denotes a show recommended by our critics.

Opening

* THE GINGHAM DOG

(By African Continuum Theatre Company at the Atlas Performing Arts Center through Oct. 22)

Now and then, an apparently mundane moment in the theater can suddenly stop your breath. In this affecting production of Lanford Wilson's 1968 play, that moment happens when actress Deidra LaWan Starnes slowly crosses the empty stage and sits on a radiator with co-star Jason Stiles. That such a quotidian gesture becomes riveting testifies, in part, to the fierce, tender performances by Starnes and Stiles as spouses winding down an emotional slugfest. They were a golden couple once, the white man and black woman on the radiator, but it's over before the play begins. Stiles glowers as Vincent, a rising architect in a firm that builds low-income housing, which his wife finds degrading to the poor. And Starnes simmers as Gloria, the woman whose increasing civil rights activism is getting under her husband's skin. Wilson's best writing often has mixed this kind of fluid, passionate indignation with a cleareyed depiction of how people let each other down, and director Jeremy Skidmore's production nails the mood.

-- Nelson Pressley

Continuing

CABARET

(At Arena Stage through Oct. 29)

Tomorrow, it turns out, belongs to the drag queens. Pushing brooms in director Molly Smith's idea of the notorious Kit Kat Klub, that Broadway-style bastion of Weimar Germany's decadence, men in rouge and fishnet stockings are chosen to belt out "Cabaret's" Aryan anthem, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." In Smith's weird re-engineering, the show becomes a shrill sandwich sign for all manner of editorializing. The motif is of beauty and hideousness intertwined, but the loudness of Smith's meddling drowns out almost everything. The production is technically adept, which, in light of the brilliance of the score, may be all that audiences will require. The scenes move, and the tricky transitions between the club numbers and the story of the dalliance of chanteuse Sally Bowles (Meg Gillentine) and the writer Clifford Bradshaw (Glenn Seven Allen) flow deftly on set designer Anne Patterson's multiple platforms.


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