NEW THIS WEEK
CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE -- (Through Oct. 28 at Arena Stage)
A three-dimensional storybook, this is a pan-national folk festival in which Bertolt Brecht's tale of motherhood and treachery is but one element of a richly theatrical whole. Director Tazewell Thompson and his brilliant costume designer Paul Tazewell seem to make visual and aural references to China, India, Mongolia, Africa, the West Indies and Polynesia. Confronted with so many images, one must abandon urges to define and simply accept the stew for what it is. The story traces the fortunes of servant Grusha (Gail Grate, in a simple, straightforward performance), who rescues an abandoned infant, and rough-hewn scribe Azdak (Lewis J. Stadlen). The first act is hers, the second his, climaxing at the end when he has to decide the fate of the child she has come to consider her own. Stadlen's Azdak is full-bodied and vigorous, fueled by irreverence and impudence. Indeed, all the actors draw their characters in bold, graphic strokes. This "Chalk Circle" plays to the senses and the intellect, rather than to feelings, but it is a fable told in an appealing style. -- Megan Rosenfeld
MOUNTAIN -- (Through Oct. 28 at Ford's Theatre)
The late William O. Douglas was certainly an amazing fellow: He rose above a hardscrabble childhood in which he survived infantile paralysis, the death of his father and poverty. He got scholarships for college and law school, served Franklin D. Roosevelt in several capacities and became a Supreme Court justice. Playwright Douglas Scott clearly reveres Douglas and that's unfortunate; he acknowledges that Douglas had flaws but the way he deals with these shortcomings makes them seem almost like virtues. This is Soundbite Theater, events reduced to a pithy statement or epigram, a life told in headlines and good quotes. "Mountain" is neither a play nor a documentary, but part reminiscence and part liberal soapbox. Len Cariou cannot be blamed for any of the evening's shortcomings: He plays Douglas like a big tree, wide and solid. Would that he had more to work with. -- M. R.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK -- (Through Oct. 21 at Olney Theatre)
This ghostly English tale takes longer to get going than an old car on a cold morning. It's played by only two actors and a trunkful of sound effects. Arthur Kipps (Tony Rizzoli) has a terrible tale to tell, so he hires an actor (Leland Orser) to reenact his story; the actor plays Kipps and Kipps plays the other parts, with the exception of a sylphlike ghost. It's tough slogging for Rizzoli and Orser, who work harder as the task of keeping the audience awake becomes more difficult. Later there is enough intrigue in this grisly story, which involves a mysterious dead sister, to keep one's interest, but a trimmer version of this voodoo-it might stop more hearts. -- M. R.