(Source Theater Main Stage, Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 p.m., through December 19)
With this sci-fi spoof, Washington playwright Michael T. Folie intends to provide a comic view of the Craven New World to come, but he's all talk, no action. The hour-long "Clone" concerns Ronald Edgar Dowling, a dying, decrepit billionaire (a "Natural" birth) and his grasping, eternally young wife Sugora Kane (a "Splice"), who due to community property laws in the year 2106 will not be able to get his bucks after his demise. So Sugora plots to copy her husband's memories and thoughts into a younger, sexier clone of himself. Folie has some interesting ideas, but never really takes a point of view. Director William Freimuth has previously proven his outre' sensibility with stuff like the gloriously gory "Titus Andronicus," but does relatively little with this material, which seems to scream for excess in everything. Only Keith Parker, as the ranting, red-faced Dowling, obliges.
THE CONDUCT OF LIFE --
(Moving Target Theater, through December 20)
Moving Target begins its second season with "The Conduct of Life," by Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, about the tortuous domestic life of a political torturer in a present-day Latin American country. It's a difficult, ambitious choice; unfortunately this unevenly acted and directed production doesn't translate well. When the torturer, Orlando, comes home, he comments obliquely on his day's work and the illusory power it affords him, but Fornes is more interested in the dehumanization and spiritual degradation the man and his family undergo. Director Michael David Fox wrestles several arresting images out of the many short scenes, but at least as many refuse to come to life. The evening ends with a literal bang -- an unnervingly loud gunshot that leaves the audience more shaken than everything that's gone before.
(Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, through December 13)
A big Broadway hit in 1944, Mary Chase's "Harvey" remains a most amiable comedy and for the most part it is getting an amiable production at the Woolly Mammoth's new quarters at 1401 Church St. NW. Harvey is, you may recall, the invisible six-foot white rabbit who is the best friend and constant companion of a gentle tippler named Elwood P. Dowd. For a while it looks as if the dear man's fantasies will land him in a sanitarium. The Woolly Mammoth, which has long specialized in the off-beat, cottons immediately to the sweet zaniness in Chase's play. The production is somewhat shorter on period flavor, and the sets, though clever, are a little on the skimpy side. Grover Gardner, however, is ingratiataing as Dowd -- a man who has fought reality for years and is "happy to say I won out over it." Nancy Robinette, as his distraught sister, is an amusing bundle of rattled nerves. And there's a lovely bit by Andrew White as a cab driver, who delivers the message that it's the crackpots who really make the world a better place for us all. The evening is not perfect, but it should win new friends for a whacky, but wise old play.
(New Playwrights' Theater, through December 20)
A middle-aged woman is discovered in a remote cabin in the northwest. She has never ventured outside and has developed her own language. Blind, she nonetheless sees faces in the grain of a wooden plank and has committed to memory portions of the Bible, which she pretends to read. For the three scientists observing her, she is a once-in-a-lifetime oddity. Little by little, however, her behavior prompts them to take a hard look at themselves, and they come to doubt their basic notions of love, purpose and meaning. Mark Handley's play -- not without its similarities to "Equus" -- is certainly provocative in theory. At this stage of its development, however, the script is murky and most of the characters are underwritten. Karin Abromaitis plays the strange recluse, who sometimes carries on like a whirling dervish or a Martha Graham dancer. Mitchell Patrick is the scientist who falls in love with her and tries to lure her out of her enchanted world. They trigger your curiosity, but never quite command your belief.
THE NATURE AND PURPOSE OF THE UNIVERSE --
(Source Theater Warehouse Rep, Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 p.m., through December 19)
Scrappy Source Theater has decided to liven things up after midnight with its Late Night Theater series, a roster of off-beat, one-act plays that attracts a loose, spontaneous, bring-your-own kind of crowd. At the Warehouse Rep is Christopher Durang's "The Nature and Purpose of the Universe," unquestionably one of the notorious satirist's cruelest, most objectionable -- and funniest -- works. Durang explicitly tackles the dual dogmas of Catholicism and the Nuclear Family, by showing us the unrelenting persecution of Weehawken housewife Eleanor Mann. Eleanor's husband ignores her; of her three sons, one is a pimp and drug pusher, another is homosexual, and the third has been sexually mutilated in "a bizarre reaping accident." All of them beat her. And her household appliances don't work. Eleanor hangs on to the belief that "suffering is the will of God." Watching over this domestic carnage is a pair of "agents of God," one of whom serves as a kind of Masterpiece Theatre narrator while the other steps in to interfere in the Manns' lives. Of course much of this -- most of it, in fact -- is reprehensible, but that's what makes it work, and if you're out at this hour, it probably won't rattle you too much. Jim Stone directs the 70-minute piece like a segment of "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" on angel dust. All the performers go full-out, particularly Brilane Bowman, whose perfectly potato-faced lassitude as Elaine, is hilariously bathetic. (Bowman also choreographed the alarmingly realistic fights, which she is usually at the receiving end of.)