Theater critic

Tom Stoppard’s “The Hard Problem” at Studio Theatre, with Kyle Cameron and Tessa Klein. (Teresa Wood)

The last of the holiday musicals sinks out of sight as Signature Theatre’s majestic “Titanic” closes Sunday, and the serious winter season continues with the next musicals up: “Caroline, or Change” at Round House Theatre and “Sweeney Todd” at Olney Theatre Center.

Otherwise the runway is loaded with sober plays, from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (okay, that one’s boozy) at Ford’s Theatre to Mosaic Theatre Company’s “Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies.”

PREVIEWING

“As You Like It.” Gaye Taylor Upchurch directs Shakespeare’s comedy — the one with a witty, lovelorn, pants-wearing Rosalind wandering among the misfits and exiles in the forest of Arden. Through March 5 at Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. Tickets $35-$75. Call 202-544-7077 or visit folger.edu.

“Baby Screams Miracle.” Surreal apocalypse from playwright Clare Barron as a family prays through a storm. Directed by Howard Shalwitz, featuring Cody Nickell, Kate Eastwood Norris and Sarah Marshall. Jan. 30-Feb. 26 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW. Tickets $20-$74, subject to change. Call 202-393-3939 or visit woollymammoth.net .

“Caroline, or Change.” More Tony Kushner after autumn’s “Angels in America,” as Signature Theatre’s Matthew Gardiner directs the 2002 musical with the Jeanine Tesori score. Nova Y. Payton plays the title figure, a black housemaid in 1963 Louisiana. Through Feb. 26 at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Hwy., Bethesda. Tickets $46-$90. Call 240-644-1100 or visit roundhousetheatre.org.

“The Gin Game.” Doug Brown and Roz White in the play by D.L. Coburn. Feb. 2-March 12 at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. Tickets $55-$60. Call 703-548-9044 or visit metrostage.org.

“Hooded: Or Being Black for Dummies.” A streetwise character writes a how-to guide on “blackness” for a suburban student in local writer Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s new play. Through Feb. 19 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets $40-$60. Call 202-399-7993 or visit mosaictheater.org.

“I Wanna F-ing Tear You Apart.” A premiere on friendship and anger from writer-director Morgan Gould. Feb. 1-19 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Tickets $45-$55, subject to change. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org .

“I Too Speak of the Rose.” The 1965 play by Mexico’s Emilio Carballido about two poor young girls who accidentally derail a train. Feb. 2-26 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. Tickets $40-$45. Call 202-234-7174 or visit galatheatre.org.

“Last Train to Nibroc.” A two-character love story onboard a train carrying the bodies of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West; Arlene Hutton’s play was called “a generally gorgeous little show” in a 2015 Chicago Tribune review. Through Feb. 19 at the Undercroft Theatre, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Tickets $50-$60. Call 202-582-0050 or visit stageguild.org.

“The River.” The D.C. premiere of Jez Butterworth’s moody three-character drama (debuting 2012 in London, 2014 in New York) about an isolated fisherman and women who come and go. Feb. 2-26 at Spooky Action Theater, 1810 16th St. NW. Call 202-248-0301 or visit spookyaction.org.

“Sweeney Todd.” Stephen Sondheim’s macabre masterpiece, with David Benoit and E. Faye Butler as the entrepreneurs. Directed by Jason Loewith. Feb. 1-March 5 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. Tickets $38-$80. Call 202-924-3400 or visit olneytheatre.org.

“Trevor.” Nick Jones’s comedy of a misbehaving chimp’s life after show biz. Feb. 2-26 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Rd., Tysons. Tickets $30. Call 703-854-1856 or visit 1ststagetysons.org.

CONTINUING

The Lizzie Borden riot grrrl musical “Lizzie,” from Pinky Swear Productions. (Ryan Maxwell)

“The Hard Problem.” “The title of Tom Stoppard’s first new play since 2006’s ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’ refers to the thorny issue of consciousness. We have brains, but where — and what — exactly is the mind? Of course Stoppard can write a play about this, and not just because the wily writer opens his play with sexy, young intellectuals bantering half-nude in bed. . . . The actors get the ideas across but often seem like they’ve just picked up this second language steeped in probabilities and academic imperatives. The flaw in the performance seems to line up with the weakness in the script. Too often the talk feels brittle.” (Nelson Pressley) Through Feb. 19 at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Tickets $52-$85, subject to change. Call 202-332-3300 or visit studiotheatre.org.

“Lizzie: The Musical.” A premiere from Pinky Swear Productions. “There is nothing childish about ‘Lizzie,’ which uses pulsing rock numbers and yearning power ballads to recall the notorious 1892 double murder in Massachusetts for which Lizzie Borden was arrested — and acquitted. . . . While some scenes show Lizzie reading a book on poisons and recoiling from the sight of decapitated pigeons, the action is principally staged concert style rather than representationally. (Choreographer Rachel Hynes presumably added the apt strutting-rock-star movement.) The staged-concert conceit underscores the idea of a claustrophobic environment, perhaps best expressed in the song ‘Gotta Get Out of Here.’ But the production also includes playful touches, such as the squirt bottles of fake blood that get antic use during the murders.” (Celia Wren) Through Feb. 5 at the Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Pl. SE. Tickets $35. Visit pinkyswear-productions.com .

“Mack, Beth.” A skeevy update of “Macbeth,” with slimy corporate climbers drinking hard and executing a lurid blackmail with cell phone photos. Chris Stezin’s new drama follows Shakespeare’s plot but flattens the characters; he’s way more interested in the flirty, ambitious Beth (a heavy-lidded Jennifer J. Hopkins, breathing as much warmth as she can into a standard femme fatale role) than in the peculiarly drab Mack (Andrew Keller, reduced to a lot of suave bystanding). It’s quirky to make the witches a trio of tech-savvy geeks in a coffeehouse, but they don’t end up with much to do — and you really miss the vicious married couple’s fascinating second thoughts when their wicked scheme goes sour. Through Feb. 11 at Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW. Tickets $45. Call 202-265-3767 or visit keegantheatre.com.

“Much Ado About Nothing.” Beachy, if not peachy: The setting is a mid-20th century seaside town, with radio hits such as “It’s My Party” setting a perky, pouty mood. The classic banter between Beatrice and Benedick almost lives up to that light-stepping style: Kari Ginsburg has the swing of it, giving a nice arched-eyebrow turn as Beatrice, but Jonathan Lee Taylor’s Benedick doesn’t fully find his stride until the comedy turns serious. The hijinks are strained and the rest of the cast seldom pops with individuality, which makes the Shakespearean language sound like perky party chat crying to entertain. Through Feb. 12 at Next Stop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon. Tickets $35. Call 703-481-5930 or visit nextstoptheatre.org .

Sara Bruner (as Norma McCorvey) and Gina Daniels, with Jim Abele (background), in Lisa Loomer’s “Roe.” (C. Stanley Photography)

“Roe.” Lisa Loomer’s Roe v. Wade drama gets its East coast premiere at Arena Stage. “Even if Loomer’s work is presented by director Bill Rauch in a sometimes prosaic, finger-wagging style — prompting memories of gratingly earnest high school assemblies — the topic is important enough and the production informative enough to merit the platform the company is providing. . . . With abundant care, the playwright refracts the complexity of abortion rights through the personal prisms of two emblematic real-life characters: Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew), the Texas lawyer who brought the case, and Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner), the Dallas woman forever known by the Everywoman sobriquet Jane Roe, and who, denied access to a medical abortion, was persuaded by Weddington to become the plaintiff.” (Peter Marks) Through Feb. 29 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Tickets $40-$110, subject to change. Call 202-488-3300 or visit arenastage.org .

“Someone Is Going to Come.” “You find yourself marveling at the powers of memorization as performers David Bryan Jackson and Nanna Ingvarsson keep telling each other that someone is going to come, over and over with small variations, like waves hitting rocks. Jon Fosse’s stark dialogue seems to invite meaningful breezes to blow through the scenario’s wide-open spaces: practically nothing happens, and nothing at all that you can’t forecast within minutes of the couple’s arrival and sudden consuming dread. . . . Scena Theatre’s mission of delivering modern international works is a good one, but Fosse’s working on a frequency that American audiences may find difficult to clearly tune in.” (Nelson Pressley) Through Feb. 5 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets $30-$35. Call 202-399-7993 or visit atlasarts.org.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Edward Albee’s classic, with Holly Twyford as Martha and Gregory Linington as George, directed by Aaron Posner. Through Feb. 19 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. Tickets $15-$62. Call 888-616-0270 or visit fords.org.

CLOSING
Michael Russotto and Tim Getman in “Copenhagen.” (C. Stanley Photography)

“Charm.” Mosaic Theater Company takes on Philip Dawkins’s play about a 67-year-old transgender woman tutoring unruly homeless LGBTQ young adults. “B’Ellana Marie Duquesne, a transgender actress who notes in her bio that she was born John Eng Jr., is appealingly unaffected; she effortlessly confers on Mama an essential sense of comfort in her own skin. But her demonstrable lack of technique is a problem: Duquesne’s stiffness weakens Mama’s authority and therefore the illusion that she has the power to transform the resistant community-center students who take her class. If you’ve seen a movie like ‘Dangerous Minds’ or, going further back, ‘Up the Down Staircase,’ you’re acquainted with the premise of hostile-pupils-vs.-the-newbie-at-the-chalkboard. Still, among the actors playing the students — costumed with streetwise style by Frank Labovitz — all are praiseworthy.” (Peter Marks) Through Jan. 29 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets $40-$60. Call 202-399-7993 or visit mosaictheater.org.

“Copenhagen.” “Theater J’s revival of ‘Copenhagen,’ Michael Frayn’s Tony-winning drama about the morally fractured relationship between two world-class physicists, one a Danish Jew and the other a German who worked for the Nazis, is a sober, serviceable treatment of a play that ran on Broadway for 326 performances in 2000 and early 2001. Director Eleanor Holdridge’s production pieces together the essentials of history competently. But the resulting portrait can’t escape a sensation of insufficient intrigue.” (Peter Marks) Through Jan. 29 at Theater J in the Edlavitch D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets $37-$64. Call 202-777-3210 or visit theaterj.org .

“[gay] Cymbeline.” “Turns several of the male characters in Shakespeare’s late romance into women, most significantly making the play’s central love story a relationship between lesbians. . . . In addition to its effective gender switching, the production includes some fun fourth-wall-shattering touches, such as when the oafish Cloten (Zach Boylan) grunts, ‘Oh, yeah!’ in satisfied tones when the stage lighting turns glitzy as he prepares to sing. Unfortunately, though, the movement and stage business in ‘[gay] Cymbeline’ is fidgety, and much of the acting is unpolished or overwrought.” (Celia Wren) Through Jan. 29 at the Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Rd. Tickets $20. Visit theatreprometheus.org.


Sail on: The Maury Yeston musical “Titanic,” closing at Signature Theatre on Jan. 29. (Colin Hovde)

“Titanic.” “ ‘How could such a terrible thing happen to such a marvelous ship?’ someone asks, and well, that pretty much sums the musical up. It’s essentially a pageant of man-made calamity, the mingled one-note tales of rich and poor voyagers headed to America with storied pasts or grand hopes. Nevertheless, the tension and pathos of ‘Titanic’ the musical resound more potently in the intimate environment Eric Schaeffer masterminds than perhaps ever before. This is one of the most sophisticatedly conceived and shepherded productions of this director’s career, and just the sort of boldly outsize project that this company should be undertaking. For it turns out that your heart is in your throat far more of the time than during the comparatively lumbering Broadway original.” (Peter Marks) Through Jan. 29 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Shirlington. Tickets $40-$119. Call 703-820-9771 or visit sigtheatre.org.

TYA (Theater for Young Audiences)
ETC.
Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman in the 1977 movie “Julia,” screening for free at Arena Stage on Jan. 27. (Associated Press)

“A Simple Melody: The Magic of Irving Berlin.” A cabaret of Berlin songs with a cast of six singers, from the In Series. Through Jan. 28 at Source Theatre, 1835 14th St. NW. Tickets $42. Call 202-204-7763 or visit inseries.org.

The Capitol Steps. The longtime political satirists, tearing laughs from the headlines. Fridays and Saturdays in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Amphitheater, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Tickets $40.50. Call 202-397-7328 or visit www.capsteps.com.

“The Children’s Hour.” A staged reading of Lillian Hellman’s first play, involving a student’s lie that ruins two teachers in a 1930s girls school. Produced by Howard University’s theater department, and part of Arena Stage’s Lillian Hellman Festival. Jan. 28 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Free. Call 202-488-3300 or visit arenastage.org .

“Julia.” The 1977 film starring Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave as her childhood friend; part of Arena Stage’s Lillian Hellman Festival. Jan. 27 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Free. Call 202-488-3300 or visit arenastage.org .

Nicholas Rodriguez. A cabaret performance at Signature Theatre from Arena Stage’s leading music man (Billy Bigelow in “Carousel” and Curly in “Oklahoma!”). Jan. 31-Feb. 4 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Shirlington. Tickets $35. Call 703-820-9771 or visit sigtheatre.org .

“Shear Madness.” The indestructible interactive comedy whodunit, at 12,000-plus performances. Ongoing again as of Jan. 31 in the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab. Tickets $50-$54. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.