THE ART OF DINING --
(Source Theater Main Stage, through December 12)
With new restaurants and chefs becoming as hotly anticipated and discussed as rock stars and artists once were, Tina Howe's "The Art of Dining" would seem to be a timely exploitation of our consuming interest in food. Source Theater has whipped up a production at its Main Stage, but stripped of the working kitchen and other gustatory gimmicks of the 1979 Kennedy Center staging, the play is revealed as empty calories posing as nouvelle cuisine. As A.R. Gurney Jr. did in his superior "The Dining Room," Howe attempts to gently lampoon the fork-and-knife styles of the upper crust. Her play is a trifle about Ellen and Cal, a yuppie couple who run a perfect French restaurant in their home. After listening to them worry at length about their sauces and shopping lists, the playwright's focus shifts, and we are suddenly eavesdropping on the vapid talk wafting from three tables. Howe works hard at her preposterous platter-chatter, but you are almost certain to overhear more intriguing morsels at your local Little Tavern (and more distinctly, too). The cast is ill-matched and overheated, and the kitchen has been placed upstage so chef Ellen all but vanishes from view, thus effectively removing the novelty of watching a cook in action -- the one thing the show had going for it.
LADY, BE GOOD! --
(Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, through November 28)
This was the first of 14 musicals George and Ira Gershwin wrote for Broadway, and while it contains some of their catchiest songs ("Fascinating Rhythm," "The Man I Love"), it is a pretty musty affair by today's lights. The production comes from the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, which can be congratulated for restoring the show to its original shape, perhaps, but not much else. A 1924 hit for Fred and Adele Astaire, then America's favorite dancing couple, "Lady, Be Good" tells the story of a penniless brother and sister, who are trying to get back on their feet by hobnobbing with the smart set. Not much of this stands up 63 years later, certainly not the jokes, which fall flat. What is called for is a bevy of attractive, personable performers with the talent to override the show's manifest flaws. But with the exception of Ray Benson as the fleet-footed brother, this revival is poorly cast and laboriously performed. At least the pretty sets, inspired by the illustrations of John Held Jr., give you something to watch.