AN IDEAL HUSBAND --

(Washington Stage Guild, through January 31)

The more things change . . . Oscar Wilde's comedy "An Ideal Husband" may have been written in 1895, but it has a decidedly modern ring to it, involving as it does insider trading, sexual blackmail and politicians with Pasts. But unlike the second-rate scandals of today, the play's political maneuvering is all very discreet and proper, of course, and executed with wit, as was Wilde's way. It seems to be Washington Stage Guild's way, too. The young downtown company, which has been successfully reinvigorating the classics, deserves a hand for reviving Wilde's most "serious" play at such an apt time and for assembling such a charming production. -- Joe Brown.

ENDGAME --

(Scena Theater at Source Theater Mainstage, through February 6)

The four characters in Samuel Beckett's celebrated drama are waiting for the world to end. One of them is stuck in a wheelchair; two others inhabit garbage cans, from which their grizzled heads protrude periodically. The fourth is an arthritic servant, who performs what remains of the household chores. Out of such stark, minimalist elements, Beckett has fashioned a surprisingly robust, often comic work about futility, and it is being given a vigorous staging by the Scena Theater. Despite the play's funereal themes, this production is closer to an Irish wake, which confronts death with bald histrionics, antic behavior and even a practical joke or two. Brian Hemmingsen is particularly vivid as the blind patriarch in the wheelchair -- King Lear as he might be performed on the vaudeville circuit. -- David Richards.

RUPERT'S BIRTHDAY AND OTHER MONOLOGUES --

(Sanctuary Theater, through January 31)

"Rupert's Birthday," and the two monologues that precede it, offer gently entertaining encounters with three very ordinary people, each with an extraordinary tale to tell. Sanctuary Theater begins the evening, written by Ken Jenkins for the Actors Theater of Louisville, with a folk music overture that sets the stage with echoes of the Appalachian country. The three tales -- about a fellow whose get-rich scheme involves raising bullfrogs; an ancient gravedigger about to be replaced by a diesel machine; and a woman's rumination on the mysteries of womanhood and birth -- are rambling and humbly humorous, and the actors deliver them in a pleasingly unhurried conversational manner. -- J.B.

SAFE SEX --

(Source Theater Warehouse Rep through February 14)

With its thoughtful production of Harvey Fierstein's "Safe Sex" -- the first since the play swiftly shut down on Broadway last spring -- Source Theater has reversed the play's fortunes, turning "Safe Sex" into a success. The play, like Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy" a triad of one-acts, requires intimacy and integrity, which director Juanita Rockwell and her cast -- the remarkable Washington actor Michael Judge, in particular -- amply provide. Rockwell has given a unity and significant new production design to Fierstein's pointedly comic plays, which are about people living in a world where AIDS is a given. The writing is mostly focused and always funny -- few playwrights are as quick with a comeback or a stinging one-liner -- and though Fierstein occasionally succumbs to the maudlin, the cumulative evening works in spite of its obvious manipulation. Source is donating $1 from each ticket to the Whitman-Walker Clinic's AIDS Foundation. -- J.B.