Mini Reviews

Opening

BEEHIVE -- (At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater through Aug. 8)

"Beehive" presents a few dozen songs from the '60s -- and a couple that didn't chart until the early '70s -- in a revue that pays homage to the decade's favorite songbirds. Donning sky-high wigs and costumes that include skirts from poodle to mini, six women imitate performers such as Brenda Lee, Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin. Except the cast members don't look a whole lot like the stars they're aping, and despite strong voices, they don't much sound like them, either. There's little here, in fact, to distinguish the show as anything more than high-priced karaoke; the show doesn't even string together its hit list with a story. The well-intentioned "Beehive" may be an innocuous way to spend two hours, but it will likely leave true music lovers wishing they had just stuck to their record collections.

-- Tricia Olsewski

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF -- (At the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater through July 4)

This is Big Daddy's play. For confirmation, look no further than George Grizzard's snarling performance as the profane patriarch of a rancid Delta household. With Grizzard as his standard-bearer, director Mark Lamos allows the drama's insidious plume of malice to ooze out all over. Dana Ivey plays the foolish, self-deceiving Big Mama, her defenselessness against Grizzard's attacks so pathetic it's comic. As Brick -- the former football star drowning his homoerotic guilt in liquor -- Jeremy Davidson conjures a world of hurt in a balance of petulance and stoicism. T. Scott Cunningham and Emily Skinner, playing Gooper and Mae, are a beautifully realized pair of bloodless vultures, circling the dying Big Daddy. Their children, the "no-neck monsters," are the drama's boldest indication of Williams's contempt for domestic tranquility. Sadly, Mary Stuart Masterson is less than a sublime fit as Brick's wife, Maggie, the sensuous conniver fixated on Big Daddy's fortune. But, overall, the very savory thing about this production is the very bad taste it leaves in your mouth.

-- Peter Marks

A MONDAY NIGHT WITH BESS AND TESS -- (By the African Continuum Theatre Company at the H Street Playhouse through Sunday)

As soon as actress Beverly Cosham appears onstage wielding a clipboard and a plunger, you suspect that the production you're about to see will be a bit different. Local playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings created the show as a valentine to D.C. stage veterans Cosham and Jewell Robinson. Jennings's script, about two actresses, one of whom is about to retire, is a playful exercise to showcase what the women can do. The setup has Cosham's Bess Jackson Webster and frequent collaborator Tess Tilman Davis (Robinson) getting together onstage for one last time, though the motive of each is not to say goodbye but to reignite the other's interest in theater. Cosham and Robinson have the chemistry of old friends as they trade barbs and settle into the black box stage as if this is all old hat. Which it is, a point that's made each time the seasoned actresses jump through Jennings's hoops with ease.

-- T.O.

THE RADIANT ABYSS -- (Woolly Mammoth at the Kennedy Center Film Theater through July 18)

We should all know better than to fall for a lost soul like Ina, the dizzy hourly employee of Angus MacLachlan's new comedy. As played by Dana Acheson, Ina is an offspring of the America epitomized by greasy fries and half-baked formulations of right and wrong. Though Ina is the most seductive, all three characters in the piece are memorable losers, and director Lou Jacob ensures that the farcically indecent acts committed in and around the cinder-block office in which the play takes place retain a ripe sense of lunacy. Erin Skidmore (Janis Dardaris), a property management proprietor, enlists her lover, Steve Enloe (Jeremy Beazlie), in a scheme to sabotage the services at the fundamentalist church next door. Ina, who is also on conjugal terms with Steve, is recruited as the third leg of this mischievous triangle. Still, despite all the fine character detail, there is a disconnect among the plot elements. The play's offbeat charm notwithstanding, MacLachlan has yet to iron out some kinks in his tale.

-- P.M.

TATTOO SKY -- (By Keegan Theatre at the Clark Street Playhouse through July 8)

In this brash, poetic but ultimately unsatisfying drama written and directed by Eric Lucas, two people tear each other apart as they wait to swindle a third character. Camped out in an isolated house in the desert, trashy but romantically yearning Ray (Mark Rhea) and Meg (Susan Marie Rhea) engage in fierce, desperate conversations, taunting and tormenting each other as they wait for the mysterious stranger they are conspiring against. Though spirited and sometimes comic, the couple's slangy skirmishes don't lead anywhere emotionally, thematically or plot-wise. But Lucas has a flair for language, particularly monologues, and the play ignites when it reaches one of the vivid speeches in which characters recall moments from their pasts. It is through them that one glimpses the imaginative world he's trying -- mostly unsuccessfully -- to reveal.

-- Celia Wren

Continuing

THE BLUE ROOM -- (At Signature Theatre through July 11)

Sex sells, they say, but in David Hare's tedious play, it qualifies as something less than a bargain. The show takes an audience through 10 vignettes of seduction and lovemaking, each one suggesting, surprise, surprise, that we are all capable of caddish behavior. This idea is driven home 10 mechanical times. The gimmick of the play is the linking of the 10 scenes: One of the partners from each tryst goes on to a second dalliance in the next sequence. Rick Holmes and Deborah Hazlett, who play all of the lovers, try to give some bite to Hare's antiseptic creatures, but they're required all evening to embody toothless stereotypes.

-- P.M.

THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN -- (At Studio Theatre through Sunday)

Martin McDonagh's cruel and sporadically funny play is set in Ireland, or in the playwright's cracked view of the sentimental view of Ireland. In 1934, film director Robert Flaherty makes his documentary of fishing life, "Man of Aran," near the island of Inishmaan. Helen McCormack, pretty and rough, wants to be in the picture, so she drags her brother Bartley along and bullies Babbybobby Bennett into rowing them toward the action. Billy (Aubrey Deeker) finagles his way onto the boat by feigning tuberculosis, and his dowdy aunts, Kate and Eileen, cry over their departed Billy. And then on second thought, they hope he drowns. This is grotesque, absurd and potentially funny. But Serge Seiden's production has a peculiar earnestness. It's as if the jury were still out on how twisted "Cripple" really is.

-- Nelson Pressley

CYRANO -- (At Shakespeare Theatre through Aug. 1)

You can, it seems, teach an old warhorse new quips. A frothy "Cyrano" has taken up residence at Shakespeare Theatre, invigorated by a crafty star performance by Geraint Wyn Davies and the irreverence of a zinger-packed adaptation that displays as much affinity for the wit and wisdom of Milton Berle as for that of Edmond Rostand. The jokes in Barry Kornhauser's wiseacre script are often cheap. But let's face it, so is the sentiment in Rostand's eternally mushy play about a swashbuckling soldier-poet who had the misfortune to be born before rhinoplasty. Something needs to be done to offset the story's shopworn contrivances, and Kornhauser comes up with a nifty solution: a new pun-filled rhyming version that performs a kind of teasing gavotte on the ears. Director Michael Kahn recognizes the need to play down the melodrama and aim for the funny bone, too. The initial moments with major characters like Gregory Wooddell's Christian, Claire Lautier's Roxane and David Sabin's Ragueneau serve to put the production on a solid footing, but the vital entrance, of course, belongs to Wyn Davies, and he does not disappoint. Even the swordplay is sure-handed and witty.

-- P.M.

AN ISLAND OF NO LAND AT ALL -- (By Keegan Theatre at Clark Street Playhouse through July 10)

Torrents of lyricism and floods of Gaelic quaintness swamp Peter Coy's ambitious, atmospheric but unfocused new play being premiered here. Based on the work of Irish American author Donn Byrne, "Island" relates a heart-wrenching love story -- the star-crossed relationship between a sailor and a mysterious, neurotic nun in Ireland and other parts of Europe in the late 19th century. When Joan Bruce-Bennett (played by Ghillian Porter), falls for deBourke O'Malley (Eric Lucas), the lovers flee Ireland and roam uneasily around Europe. But since "Island's" infatuation with the Emerald Isle rivals O'Malley's love for Joan, the script keeps doubling back to Ireland and the Irish. Director Mark A. Rhea does a valiant job of keeping the work's sprawling tendencies in check. Porter exudes a brittle blitheness that makes the tale's denouement all the more poignant, and Lucas cultivates a laid-back, matinee-idol panache. But it's Brian Hemmingsen, as the brooding Mr. Moore, who has the most stage presence. Ultimately, these performers are overwhelmed by the play's scope and messiness. Still, Coy and the Keegan deserve credit for adventurousness.

-- C.W.

LYPSINKA -- (At Studio Theatre through July 3)

To those apoplectic over the shortage these days of great ladies of the theater, I give you that one-dame cavalcade of hyperdramatic femininity, Lypsinka. She is both trailblazer and throwback, a merciless parodist who nonetheless manages to pay affectionate tribute to bygone images of womanhood on stage and screen. For anyone familiar with her dizzy oeuvre, this production is a reaffirmation of Lypsinka's uproarious brand of performance art, a style that mixes hilarious insight with meticulous showmanship. Newcomers get the added thrill of first exposure to a peculiar kind of genius, a talent for impersonation that goes beyond mimicry. As Lypsinka, John Epperson lip-synchs for 80 nonstop minutes to songs patched together in a way that gives the production an almost orchestral cohesion.

-- P.M.

MAHALIA -- (At MetroStage through July 11)

It's no surprise to see Bernardine Mitchell giving an infectious, powerhouse performance in this musical about gospel legend Mahalia Jackson. What's unexpected is the strength of Mitchell's sidekicks, S. Renee Clark and William Hubbard, a pair of double-threat talents who sing beautifully and coax glory from their keyboards. As actors they aren't in Mitchell's class, but then the story Tom Stolz has written about Mahalia Jackson's life is embarrassingly slight. The overly cute, platitude-laden book shuns drama and attempts no insights into one of the larger figures of 20th-century culture. The underdeveloped show is redeemed by the vibrance and integrity of its musical performance, for which music director Clark gets credit. Everything from soft a cappella spirituals to foot-stomping, organ-driven anthems is handled expertly.

-- N.P.

NECESSARY TARGETS -- (At Olney Theatre Center through Sunday)

Before Eve Ensler turned interviews with Bosnian rape victims into one of her now-famous "Vagina Monologues," she used them as the basis for this play about how women are affected by war. Prim Manhattan psychiatrist J.S. (Julie-Ann Elliott) and young trauma counselor Melissa (Jen Plants) travel to a Bosnian refugee camp, where they spend time with five women who have little in common but their sex and their current predicament. Though each of the women is given time to tell her dramatic story, Ensler keeps the focus on the counselors. In trying to demonstrate how war affects everyone, Ensler reduces the refugees to one-dimensional characters who do little but wear their personal tragedies like placards. The plight of the play's women seems secondary to the psychological changes the counselors undergo, shifting the focus from sympathetic Bosnians to ugly Americans.

-- T.O.

ORPHEUS DESCENDING -- (At Arena Stage through Sunday)

Arena Stage goes where the Kennedy Center feared to tread. Center officials decided on a greatest-hits approach to their "Tennessee Williams Explored" festival, ceding to others the riskier task of broadening an audience's perspective on Williams. For this daring curatorial coup alone, Arena deserves Washington's applause. Arena provides a respectable treatment of a difficult play, offering some strong performances and some problematic ones. If, in the end, Molly Smith's production isn't the scorcher you might have hoped for, it's a valiant try. Smith's revival has a satin-smooth surface that shows off to advantage Williams's lush language. Yet for a story set in what amounts to a truck stop on a back road to Hell, the production has a reined-in quality.

-- P.M.

SHEAR MADNESS -- (At the Kennedy Center Theater Lab indefinitely)

This interactive murder mystery, set in a Georgetown beauty parlor, is not so much a whodunit as a how-they-dunit. How has a mechanical comedy featuring a gallery of obvious stereotypes and a bottomless barrel of bad jokes found success here for so many years? I was stunned, not by the sheer badness of it, but by the blandness. Why would one of the world's premier showcases for theater tie up one of its stages for so long with any play, let alone one so inconsequential?

-- P.M.

THE UNDERPANTS -- (By Washington Stage Guild at Arena Stage through July 11)

Steve Martin saw something timeless in German satirist Carl Sternheim's 1910 comedy "Die Hose." Polite society's standards of decency may have mellowed, and our tolerance of exposed skin has unquestionably increased. But nearly a century after Sternheim's work was first staged, a particular line is still drawn: It's just bad taste to let one's knickers fall down in public. This scandal lies at the heart of this delightful production of Martin's adaptation of the Sternheim play, re-staged by WSG after last winter's run. It's 1913 in a bright apartment in Duesseldorf, Germany, and young housewife Louise (Anne Bowles) had been innocently waving to the king during a parade when she became the victim of a wayward undergarment. The story may not be a Martin original, but his comedic presence is conjured .

-- T.O.

THE WORLD GOES ROUND -- (At Round House Theatre through July 3)

At the close of the first half of this tribute to musical theater stalwarts John Kander and Fred Ebb, the ensemble merrily rolls along to one of the evening's many highlights. Sporting roller skates, four of the five performers circle the stage while singing the title song from Kander and Ebb's 1984 concoction "The Rink." The fifth is on a scooter. The quintet seems to be, more than anything else, having fun. Pure, infectious fun, and lots of it. Combined with the hugely enjoyable rendition of the tune, the atmosphere of genuine delight proves that the tough business of musical revue, done right, has a theatrical charge and pleasure all its own. Not every number in the evening is performed so charmingly well, and a few moments feel thinly staged and executed. But we're talking a relatively few flat notes in an otherwise pitch-perfect visit to the sly, wry world of two of American musical theater's most astute and melodic craftsmen.

-- William Triplett