THE SECRET RAPTURE --
(Olney Theatre, through July 8)
David Hare's turbulent family drama has much to recommend it. But Carolyn Swift's performance as the play's heroine threatens to undo all the good work being done elsewhere. She is cast as the head of a small London design firm, a woman whose uncompromising goodness makes her an outright puzzlement to her family and friends. "The Secret Rapture" recounts her victimization and murder in an acquisitive, self-centered society that Hare attributes to Margaret Thatcher. Under James Petosa's direction, the supporting cast proves infinitely more interesting, playing a variety of duplicitous and greedy types. As a result, you'll watch with some fascination as the sharks circle. You justwon't care all that much about their prey. -- David Richards
STARLIGHT EXPRESS --
(Kennedy Center Opera House, through July 14)
Andrew Lloyd Webber's follow-up to "Cats," this over-produced, over-amplified musical is a spectacular nonentity. This time, the actors are wearing roller skates and pretending to be trains, cabooses, sleeping cars, flatbeds and diners. The plot is more or less that of "The Little Engine That Could," but the scale is that of "The Ten Commandments." Rusty, the plucky little steam engine, is competing in the great cross-country train race against some formidable entries -- among them, Greaseball, the diesel who thinks he's Elvis; and Electra, an electricity-powered thunderbolt who looks a lot like Grace Jones. The race, which takes place partially on a runway built out into the audience and partially on a huge upstage screen, is not particularly suspenseful. But then, if you don't already know who's going to win, ask any 6-year-old. Actually, that's for whom this show appears to have been conceived. Adults may find watching it akin to being trapped inside a gigantic video game for two hours. -- D.R.
TALES OF THE LOST FORMICANS --
(Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, in repertory with "Hurlyburly," through Aug. 5)
In Constance Congdon's eccentric comedy, anthropologists from outer space ponder life in the 20th century as it unfolds in a Colorado subdivision. They are bewildered by much of what they see, but in that respect, they're no different from the objects of their scrutiny. Congdon's earthlings can't make much sense of their own behavior, either. They're doing their best to cope with divorce, rebellious offspring, Alzheimer's disease and suburban sprawl. But they've lost their direction and don't know which way to turn. Congdon indulges in all sorts of structural innovations -- breaking her script into tiny, often unconnected scenes, some of which she runs forward and backwards. But a lot of her innovations are just so much camouflage, dressing up a script that otherwise would register as a fairly routine domestic drama. The Woolly Mammoth production is a good one, though, and Jane Beard, as the single housewife who's at the center of this disintegrating world, gives a lovely, resilient performance. -- D.R.