NEW THIS WEEK
HURLYBURLY -- (Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, in repertory with "Tales of the Lost Formicans," through Aug. 5)
There is nothing pleasant about David Rabe's 1984 drama, which indulges the delusions and neuroses of four men, fringe players in the entertainment industry, who think they're breaking into the fast lane when they're really skidding right off the freeway. Drugged to the gills most of the time, virulent in their male chauvinism, terminally self-absorbed, they are as unsavory a crew as you could hope for. But they can cast a certain malignant spell as they lurch about a bachelor pad high in the Hollywood Hills, sounding the depths of their cloudy souls and abusing the hapless women in their lives. Not so, however, in this poorly acted production, which is pretty much miscast all down the line. The evening checks in at 3 1/4 hours and you will be acutely aware of every passing moment. -- David Richards
BUSHCAPADES: AN ADMINISTRATION ON THIN ICE! -- (Saturdays at the Bayou, indefinitely)
Always sensitive to the political Zeitgeist and ready to turn today's scandal into tonight's skit, the capital's resident satirical gang, Gross National Product, goes after Bush, Quayle and other headline hogs. The troupe has expanded to include eight versatile actors, all of them as fast with impressions as with improvs, and the show has settled comfortably into a regular Saturday night live spot at the Bayou, capitalizing on the big club's sound and lights for its customarily clever use of sound bites, voice-overs and other borrowed-from-TV techniques. In fact, as GNP grows ever more polished (and its teeth get sharper), it comes closer to becoming Washington's answer to Chicago's priceless Second City. -- Joe Brown
FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE -- (Studio Theatre, through July 29)
Who says only the beautiful people should get the love stories? Terrence McNally's warm and unpretentious play shows how Johnny, a short-order cook in a Manhattan hash house, wins the heart of Frankie, a middle-aged, overweight waitress. In the course of a night at Frankie's, the two engage in some fairly explicit sexual talk and it's not arm-wrestling that rumples the sheets on the foldaway bed. Nonetheless, the play emits a sweet, old-fashioned innocence. It may seem odd to talk of courtship, when Johnny (Lawrence Redmond, giving an immensely likeable performance) spends most of the evening in his underpants, while Frankie (Nancy Paris, and not so good) is forever opening and closing her wrapper. But that's the age-old ritual being played out. He's a short-order cook on a white charger. She's his waitress fair. And they end up, from all appearances, happily ever after. -- D.R.
FRESH VICTIMS -- (d.c. space, Fridays and Saturdays, indefinitely)
More wry than riotous, with a high hits-to-misses ratio, the satirical troupe Fresh Victims is back with a smart-mouthed edition of its revue. The ensemble is the brainchild of Wes Johnson, a former member of the sassy, politically savvy Gross National Product, and he seems to be consciously avoiding the political turf staked out by that troupe, gunning instead for a more eclectic, everyday array of targets. Johnson, who wrote the bulk of the material, is an endless font of inventive energy, and quick with a series of alarmingly acute impressions, and the company has a nicely complementary blend of personalities. The show is slick-on-a-budget, and the troupe works small wonders with exactingly synchronized sound effects and the cabaret's limited lighting capabilities. -- J.B.
MRS. FOGGYBOTTOM & FRIENDS: A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE SHOREHAM -- (Marquee Lounge, Omni Shoreham Hotel, through July 28)
Political satirist Joan Cushing (and her insouciantly arch alter ego Mrs. Foggybottom) has been a Washington resident and keen-eyed observer of the passing scene for 18 years. So she knows where the bodies are buried, and what's more, she incorporates the dish into her character's cocktail chatter. Martini in hand, plumed hat atilt, Mrs. Foggybottom perches on a stool in between musical numbers and holds forth on everything from Mayor Barry's hand gestures to the new Macy's at the Pentagon. Her cleverest songs resemble the wordplay of Tom Lehrer; at the other end of the spectrum are ditties that play like Mad Magazine's "sung to the tune of . . ." parodies. Nearly every number makes its point, however, and all have a punchline that connects. The latest edition of her stylish musical revue is a money's-worth evening for native and tourist alike, performed by a bright and personable ensemble in one of the more attractive cabaret spots in town. -- J.B.
ON THE WAY HOME -- (at Arena Stage's Old Vat Room, indefinitely)
It's been more than eight years since Stephen Wade -- banjo player, teller of tall tales and occasional dancer of jigs -- brought his assorted skills to Arena Stage. You can now detect a faint suggestion of gray in the mop of unruly curls that passes for his coiffure. But that's about the only concession he's made to time. Now, Wade has put "Banjo Dancing" on the back burner and opened a new one-man show, "On the Way Home," in the Old Vat Room. As an entertainer, he's a delight -- a foot-stomping, eye-twinkling, listen-to-me-closely kind of guy in work boots and a small-town preacher's tight pin-striped suit. In short, an original. And his childlike wonder at a world that contains such a miracle as the banjo -- not to mention riverboats, back porches and hollows in the mist -- remains unabated. Like a kid just in from the woods, Wade wants nothing more than to share with you the treasures he's found, and he can't imagine your enthusiasm won't match his. -- D.R.
SHEAR MADNESS -- (Kennedy Center Theater Lab, indefinitely)
From Boston comes this strange hybrid -- part participatory theater, part whodunit, part farce and all of it as broad as the proverbial barn door. Midway through the first act, a murder is committed in a unisex hair salon and the audience is invited to join the investigation -- grilling the suspects and then voting for the guilty party. For the Kennedy Center run, the action has been set in Georgetown, and the script has been laced with local references. "Hyattsville" gets a big laugh. It doesn't take great powers of deduction to figure out that this enterprise is aiming low. The humor is strained, and the actors are pushing so hard you fear they'll burst a blood vessel. What, you can only wonder, is a play like this doing at the Kennedy Center? -- D.R.
STARLIGHT EXPRESS -- (Kennedy Center Opera House, through Saturday)
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. 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.