A check mark (g) denotes a show recommended by our critics.
At Flashpoint through March 9
“Canterbury” is what might happen to Chaucer’s raucous 14th-century pilgrims if they stopped for a brewski or three at an English major’s dorm party. The eight actors of the fledgling Pointless Theatre Co. offer up merry, spunky and dramatically erratic versions of seven of the better-known installments of that staple of world lit survey courses, “The Canterbury Tales.” This effusive ensemble exudes a pleasure in performance that can’t help but infect the audience. At times, though, the cast’s exuberance comes at the expense of polish, and the manner in which some of the tales are spun feels rushed and disjointed. Some of the storytelling inefficiencies may be a product of the show’s team approach to playwriting. A total of eight writers are credited in the program, one for each tale, except for a pair of playwrights who collaborate on the dramatization of the Wife of Bath’s tale. The echoing of Chaucer’s literary device -- the pilgrims compete for a prize for the best tale -- links the play authoritatively to the original. What remains underdeveloped for the purposes of the stage is a narrative spine. And yet, there’s more than enough that’s promising in “Canterbury” to ponder what Pointless might come up with next.
— Peter Marks
Friday-Saturday and Wednesday-Thursday at 8. 916 G St. NW. 866-811-4111. www.pointlesstheatre.com. $20, $15 students and seniors.
At Round House Theatre through Saturday
The title of Bill Cain’s drama alludes to the concentric regions of torment described in Dante’s “Inferno.” But given the emotional workout that actor Julian Elijah Martinez appears to get in Forum Theatre’s valiant staging of this cerebral and sometimes arid piece, the circles might be so many circus hoops. Depicting Private Reeves, a soldier put on trial for war crimes in Iraq, Martinez vaults adroitly through divergent modes and attitudes. A once-enthusiastic soldier marked by an apparent personality disorder, Reeves argues and evades when various far-from-disinterested professionals attempt to talk about the acts he has allegedly committed. The intense tete-a-tetes tease out provocative questions about war, justice, guilt and America’s possible exploitation of its troops. It’s a powerful performance, and director Jennifer L. Nelson’s tightly gauged production features muscular turns from its supporting cast, too. But despite the artful design and performances, “9 Circles” never makes you feel as much as it makes you think.
— Celia Wren
Friday and Saturday at 8. 8641 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 240-644-1100. www.roundhousetheatre.org. $25, $20 seniors, $15 students.
At Imagination Stage through March 10
Borrow a kid from a relative or friend if you need to, but see “Anime Momotaro.” True, this is theater for young audiences, but any stage-loving adult shouldn’t miss it. That’s how fresh, inventive and engaging the show is. Children will squeal appreciatively at the eye-popping stage antics, and you’ll thank yourself for taking you, too. A young hero defeats an island of ogres in this reimagining of a Japanese folk tale, told in a glorious fusion of styles lifted primarily from Japanese manga (comic books) and anime (animated films). The creators dip into Japanese theatrical conventions as well, and even into Hong Kong martial arts films. Along the way, the saga of an ogre-destroying superhero evolves into something else — a gentler parable in which a forgiving young man uses his superpowers to better understand ogres.
— Jane Horwitz
Saturday at 11, 1:30 and 4 and Sunday at 1:30 and 4. 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. 301-280-1660. www.imaginationstage.org. $10-$25.
At Signature Theatre through Saturday
Can we agree that characters who make fools of themselves onstage tend to be funnier when they sound British? Also French. No Rules Theatre Company does that convention much justice in its bumptious revival of Peter Shaffer’s 1966 farce. For most of the play’s 90 minutes, six people, plus two who appear only briefly, bash around in a pitch-black London flat after a fuse has blown. With no flashlights readily at hand, the characters slam into hot radiators, sharp furniture, tricky staircases and one another, grabbing drinks on purpose and the odd breast by mistake. The play’s central conceit requires the actors to behave as if they can’t see a thing, while the audience observes the hijinks. A skilled and energetic cast under Matt Cowart’s adept direction makes it all click. The archness of the actors’ delivery and the intimacy of Signature Theatre’s Ark space might cause a theatergoer to fear a tidal wave of overacting. But that worry recedes as the situation onstage grows more ridiculous and complex. The angst and panic among the actors seems justified, and very funny. Only near the end does the production lose a little fizz, though it never goes flat.
Friday at 8 and Saturday at 2 and 8. 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. www.norulestheatre.org. $10-$30.
At Church Street Theater through Saturday
Keegan Theatre’s “Cabaret” conjures the musical in miniature, and it proves an intimate, emotionally involving but by no means slick rendition. The rough brick walls and creaky seats of its Church Street space help with the musical’s setting — decadent Berlin in the early 1930s as embodied in the sleazy Kit Kat Club and a shabby boardinghouse. The show takes you there, thanks to solid singing and acting by all the key players and a consistency of tone among the whole cast. They break little new ground, but co-directors and company members Christina A. Coakley and Michael Innocenti capably put up Keegan’s intimate version of the 1998 Broadway revival. That raunchier re-imagining by directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall starred Alan Cumming as a sexually ravenous and androgynous Master of Ceremonies. At Keegan, Paul Scanlan’s Emcee brings a slightly different edge to the proceedings because the actor is a bigger, fleshier fellow than Cumming or Joel Grey, who originated the role. Bare-chested except for crossed suspenders, made up in whiteface with arched brows, Scanlan’s more imposing Emcee can be downright menacing.
Friday and Saturday at 8. 1742 Church St. NW. 703-892-0202. www.keegantheatre.com. $40, $35 students and seniors.
At Woolly Mammoth Theatre through March 10
It isn’t every dramatist these days who can sustain a nuanced narrative through a full three hours and two intermissions — a feat that makes all the more impressive Danai Gurira’s absorbing tale of a young African woman’s escape from the tyranny of her background and into the supposedly emancipating embrace of the faith of the continent’s Christian colonizers. In its effectively detailed conjuring of the lives of a half-dozen African characters — capped by the vivid central performance of Nancy Moricette as the Roman Catholic neophyte of the title — the play explores with cool intelligence the schisms that colonization causes. And just as forcefully, the work tallies the brutal toll that outdated provincial customs exact on African women. Gurira traces the rapid education of Moricette’s unworldly Jekesai, after she has been brought from her village by her beloved aunt to Chilford, an African for whom Catholicism expresses everything he finds superior about the white man’s world. Jekesai, chafing at the proposed arranged marriage of her to a village elder, seeks safe haven with Chilford, who succeeds in turning her into a Catholic of extraordinary discipline and devotion. Virtually everything about “The Convert” contributes to the sensation that Gurira has met the demands of a big subject by writing a big play.
Friday and Wednesday-Thursday at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8, Sunday at 2 and 7. 641 D St. NW. 202-393-3939. www.woollymammoth.net. $35-$77.50.
At Round House Theatre through Sunday
“Glengarry” is a great play, belonging up on David Mamet’s masterwork mantelpiece with “American Buffalo” and “Speed-the-Plow.” After “Death of a Salesman,” it may be the best drama on American commerce ever written. It’s certainly the most delicious. What, after all, is more entertaining than the art of the shaft? Real estate drives the American economy in good times and bad, and in “Glengarry,” it employs a terrarium full of retail reptiles, slithering among blueprints and brochures to locate gullible prey for their latest shady deal. The work requires exquisite timing, which comes and goes in director Mitchell Hebert’s respectable production. With Mamet, the liquid dissembling, the staccato patter, the virtuosic trash talk demand a careful listen and a cast in gleeful sync. The actors’ energy levels on press night felt all over the place, perhaps because of nerves or the knowledge that they were playing to friends. In any event, I’d like to go back, because so many fine actors are sharing the stage. They seem in striking distance of not only getting “Glengarry’s” laughs, which does occur, but also of nailing the excruciating desperation at the core of the play — which doesn’t.
Friday at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8 and Sunday at 3 and 7. 4545 East West Hwy., Bethesda. 240-644-1100. www.roundhousetheatre.org. $26-$63.
At Arena Stage through March 10
The people of “Good People” aren’t all that good, which is partly why the play is better than good. As consequences of David Lindsay-Abaire’s wisdom-filled script and Jackie Maxwell’s superbly modulated direction, the evening in Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater delivers robust helpings of insight and laughs. The superior standard is set at the top of the cast and filters down to the smallest (and still quite significant) of the six roles. In the crisp tale of an out-of-work single mom from hardscrabble South Boston, who reaches out to an ex-boyfriend-turned-wealthy-doctor, the workhorse role is that of blue-collar Margie Walsh. As played with endearing gumption by the smashing Johanna Day, Margie is a straight shooter who is so Southie-proud she wears her financial struggles like a crown. She’s just been fired from her $9-an-hour cashier’s job at a dollar store; she’s late on the rent to her tolerant if unpredictable landlady and worn out from caring for the unseen Joyce, her mentally disabled grown daughter. If that’s not a recipe for audience sympathy, what is? Well, not so fast. Or at least, not so simple. Maxwell has a surefire ear for comedy: This “Good People” is even funnier than the excellent 2011 version with Frances McDormand at Manhattan Theatre Club.
Friday and Thursday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 6, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30. 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. www.arenastage.org. $55-$100.
At Folger Theatre through March 10
Demonstrating decisively that a hero can always be found waiting in the wings, a young actor by the name of Zach Appelman has come along to grab hold of the oratorical reins of “Henry V” and carry us with astonishing confidence back once more to the breach. Appelman commandingly occupies center stage of director Robert Richmond’s capital new staging of “Henry V” at Folger Theatre for, perhaps, the most stirring version of a Shakespeare history play the city has seen in a decade. Tautly constructed and impressively spoken, Richmond’s production conveys with the savvy deployment of a mere 13 actors (one of them a fiddle player) the evolution of a leader from petulant boy-soldier to lion-hearted royal statesman. You always imagine your grounding in a particular work of Shakespeare is complete until you encounter another noteworthy example. Richmond, who tweaked for Folger the Bard’s cravenly political “Henry VIII” in 2010 and a year later explored the psyche of a charismatically sociopathic Iago in “Othello,” offers his most accomplished vision to date with “Henry V.” It is far from a breeze, finding an actor with both the physical bearing and the brains to play a great warrior-king. So when it happens, the occasion is one for toasts and cheers.
Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 2 and 7, Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30. 201 East Capitol St. SE. 202-544-7077. www.folger.edu. $30-$68.
At GALA Hispanic Theatre through March 10
Supernatural events figure occasionally in Caridad Svich’s play about four generations of a Latin American family coping with social and political turmoil. So it’s apt enough that an elegant spookiness should surface now and then in this resonant production of the drama, which is based on the novel by Isabel Allende. Haunting sequences appear courtesy of projection designer Alex Koch, one of several talents behind the gorgeous look of this production, directed by Jose Zayas. (The show is performed in Spanish with English surtitles.) Pale furnishings represent the family heritage of Alba, whose grandfather, Esteban Trueba, is a conservative landlord in an unnamed Latin American country. When Alba is detained and tortured by the military government her grandfather supports, she keeps her grip on sanity by remembering tales of family members. When Alba slips back into her own time, the production’s evocation of detention and torture can be relatively intense. The leitmotif-like recurrence of the abuse scenes, and a canny streamlining of Allende’s epic plot, give “House of the Spirits” a bracing, hard-eyed focus.
Friday-Saturday and Thursday at 8, Sunday at 3. 3333 14th St. NW. 202-234-7174. www.galatheatre.org. $20-$40.
At MetroStage through March 31
The jazz really cooks at MetroStage in “Ladies Swing the Blues.” The premiere, a vibrant tribute to alto sax jazz great Charlie “Bird” Parker, falters only when it tries too hard to explain the inexplicable. A five-member combo, piloted by William Knowles at the keyboard, tears up the place right off the bat with “Shaw ’Nuff” by Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and it never disappoints thereafter. Five fine singers also fill the room with sweet high notes and smoky low notes, keeping up with the band, no problem. Yet it’s those guys at the back of the cabaret-style stage who lock the show up. Conceived as “a tonal poem told in the key of jazz,” this piece works best when the musicians and singers cover classic tunes by Parker and others of his era. The show skips a beat whenever director/writer/lyricist Thomas W. Jones II and Knowles insert their original tunes and dialogue to comment on Parker’s life or educate us about his art. Jones and Knowles have done several shows in this vein, exploring the rich history of jazz, but they haven’t quite cracked how to make dialogue that is essentially fact-filled exposition work with the rest of the show.
Friday and Thursday at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8, Sunday at 3 and 7. 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. 800-494-8497. www.metrostage.org. $48-$55, $25 students.
At Arena Stage through March 17
The first word uttered in Mary Zimmerman’s luminously liquid pageant of ancient myths is “Bodies,” and how fitting that proves to be. Over the 100 shimmering minutes of “Metamorphoses,” a fleet squad of 10 actors finds ever more enchanting ways of embodying Roman poet Ovid’s stories of divinity-assisted transformation. Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” — the play-in-the-pool she unveiled 15 years ago at her home base, Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company — has become her signature work, one that in exporting it to Broadway, won her a Tony in 2002 for best director of a play. Now, Zimmerman mounts it in Arena Stage’s Fichandler space, for its first presentation with an audience on all sides and in the largest pool ever built for its waterborne theatrics. The results intensify the dramatic impact and amplify the beauty. Five of the actors in the Fichandler also were in the Broadway version, and so veterans carry out their assignments with the polish of long acquaintance. Raymond Fox is particularly strong as King Midas, whose every gilded footstep is accompanied by an unsettling chime, and Louise Lamson’s Alcyon wades with palpable anguish into the water, waiting for a seafaring Ceyx (Geoff Packard), who’ll return only in her dreams. The others immerse themselves with just as much conviction, making the Arena ensemble the most persuasive I’ve encountered.
Friday and Thursday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 2 and 7:30, Tuesday at 7:30, Wednesday at noon and 7:30. 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. www.arenastage.org. $40-$100.
At Studio Theatre through March 24
Don’t be deceived by that expletive basking in the title, or by the profanity-ridden sarcasm and bluster that is the characters’ default communication mode: There’s an element of romance in “The Motherf—-er with the Hat,” Stephen Adly Guirgis’s shrewdly crafted comedy about recovering addicts in New York City. In the affecting and seductively funny Studio Theatre production, seamlessly directed by Serge Seiden, you can glimpse the romance at key moments in the expressions and gestures of actor Drew Cortese. Cortese plays the comedy’s central character, Jackie, an ex-con who tends to fly off the handle at the least provocation. Jackie has a manic, trash-talking, fist-pumping manner, and he’s fond of borrowing, and using, a local gangster’s gun. But he loves his longtime girlfriend, Veronica. At one point, when he realizes he has caused her unwonted distress, he rocks numbly as he sits on a chair, biting his lip, looking stricken and fierce, tearful and defiant, simultaneously.
Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, Sunday at 2 and 7. 1501 14th St. NW. 202-332-3300. www.studiotheatre.org. $39-$82.
At Theater J through March 17
Directed by the always even-keeled John Vreeke, “Race” is the shriller but tauter of the two David Mamet plays now on stage in local theaters — the other “Glengarry Glen Ross” at Round House. A wealthy white man walks into a law firm that has one white partner, one black partner and a black associate, and says he’s in need of legal representation: He has been accused of raping a black woman. Actors Crashonda Edwards, Leo Erickson, James Whalen and Michael Anthony Williams are all so commendably committed to the dramatization of this rather slender play — purporting to give the lowdown on racial politics as it pertains to the legal profession — that you wish they had a better distillation of Mamet’s skills to work with. “Race” is Mamet meets “Law & Order,” and like most episodes of that long-running franchise, it’s juicy and rife with plot twists — and almost instantly forgettable.
Friday at noon, Saturday at 3 and 8, Sunday at 3 and 7:30, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30. 1529 16th St. NW. 800-494-8497. www.theaterj.org. $30-$60.
At Gunston Arts Center Theater II through March 9
“Sexo, Pudor y Lagrimas” begins with the ingredients of farce: two discontented married couples who live in adjoining apartments. When Tomas moves in with his friend Carlos (Alfredo Sanchez), an introverted writer, and Carlos’s sexually voracious wife, things start to get complicated. When an unhappy menage next door gets exposed, things get really complicated, and battle is once again joined in the age-old war of the sexes. For the Teatro de la Luna production, performed in Spanish with English subtitles, director Mario Marcel has devised a simple set that is roomy enough for the characters’ antics. Sanchez emphasizes the brooding awkwardness of Carlos, but Carlos doesn’t have the monopoly on deep thinking in this play: Other characters also speculate about the meaning of life, the nature of intimacy and the dynamics of the male-female power struggle. If you’re in the market for a thinking person’s sex comedy, “Sexo, Pudor y Lagrimas” is certainly an option.
Friday and Thursday at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8. 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington. 703-998-4555. teatrodelaluna.org. $30, $25 students and seniors.
At Signature Theatre through Sunday
We are led to believe that “R+J” takes place in some unnamed, uptight modern school, where boys march and conjugate Latin verbs. In blazers with institutional insignias, the boys stiffen at the oppressively amplified clangs of a bell. And then after curfew, they retrieve flashlights as the bravest of them pulls out a clandestine copy of Shakespeare’s star-crossed tragedy. Soon enough, Alex Mills is acting Romeo’s lines; Rex Daugherty, the Nurse’s, and Joel David Santner, Mercutio’s. And most scandalously of all, Jefferson Farber joins in as Juliet. While large portions of Shakespeare’s tragedy are recited, the “Romeo and Juliet” enacted on this occasion is a means to a forbidden end. It’s the vehicle by which two stifled young men reveal their passion for each other to each other. The transformation did not sit well with a small minority of theatergoers at the performance I attended. Still, the caliber of inventiveness, the cleverness of the staging and the boundless energy of the cast keep us (well, most of us) glued to our seats.
Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8 and Sunday at 2 and 7. 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. 703-820-9771. www.signature-theatre.org. $25-$90.
At Olney Theatre Center through March 10
There are shows that let you know almost immediately that the night may be a satisfying knockout. Steve Cosson’s staging of “Spring Awakening” is one of them. It’s not that Cosson paints a radical new face on this popular rock musical of teen angst. But from the moment Alyse Alan Louis steps forward to croon the brooding “Mama Who Bore Me,” the moody, exuberant music is captivating, the rock concert design is sleek and the young performers are coolly in charge. Well, not always so coolly. “Spring Awakening” is a famously hot-blooded musical. It’s based on the 1891 Frank Wedekind drama about doomed, rebellious youths wanting to know about things (sex, please) that strait-laced adults can’t face. The setting is 1890s Germany, but the hook of the show is that the sound is right now. The show follows several threads, the most pronounced being the budding, confused romance between Wendla and Melchior and the suicidal anguish of a boy named Moritz. Despite the high emotions and very grim events, the production almost never feels false. The balanced, talented cast has a lot to do with that. It’s hard to think of a musical that has looked or sounded so sharp lately at Olney. Even the applause at a recent show had a crisp edge — an undercurrent of a roar that you don’t often hear in Washington theater. It was well earned.
— Nelson Pressley
Friday and Wednesday-Thursday at 8, Saturday at 2, Sunday at 2 and 7:30. 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. 301-924-3400. www.olneytheatre.org. $55-$63.50, $48.50-$63.50 seniors, $48.50-$58.50 children.