Plays That Were Books, Movies That Were Plays, and Plays That Were Other Plays

Ruth Haney

West Side Story

5th Avenue Theatre

Through June 19.

The 1961 West Side Story movie did such a fine job immortalizing the musical that it almost obliterated any reason to perform it live. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first staging of Story, which the 5th Avenue considered reason enough to remount it, and they've taken the path of least resistance by basically performing the film.

The movie's fantastic dance moves were the original Broadway choreography by Jerome Robbins, which this production lovingly recreates with dancers from Spectrum Dance Theater. Thirty or so Jets and Sharks snap, kick, and switchblade through rumbles lit like comic-book fight scenes. Disco balls and streamers and highway overpasses and fluorescent lights descend from the ceiling while what sounds like a full orchestra plays the swingin' score flawlessly from below. It's not theater, exactly—it's spectacle. This sort of thing is what summer was made for.

Some lyrics, particularly in "America," were hard to understand and a few actors didn't get their lines across, thanks to overaccentuated Puerto Rican accents. (Did Maegan McConnell's Maria really need to heavily roll the "r" in words like "part?" Really?) Most of the cast—especially Jeremy Lucas as Action, Louis Hobson as Tony, and Manoly Farrell as Anita—are glories to behold as they work hard at making everything seem easy. You won't find the play reimagined or even reexamined, and if you've seen the movie, you've seen this musical, but there's joy to be had in watching a huge cast take on a classic and create an homage that's over the top in its adoration. PAUL CONSTANT

Crime and Punishment

Capitol Hill Arts Center

Through July 27.

Crime and Punishment is a longish novel I have never read. I mean, I've got the general idea (crime, punishment), and I've definitely pulled "Raskolnikov" out of my back pocket at bar trivia, but not once have I cracked the actual book. Watching this shortish (90 minutes, three actors) theatrical adaptation, my ignorance was liberating and sort of fun.

The space, in CHAC's protean basement, is small and rectangular, with low ceilings, enclosed by hanging white sheets. The audience sits in two blocks, facing one another, with the stage in between. The girls in the front row tensely clench their knees together to deflect wandering eyes. It is stiflingly hot. It feels like sitting inside a diorama of Raskolnikov's tiny, dark, sweltering apartment. The novel (one can assume) has been pared down to its quivering spine: Raskolnikov's self-imposed anguish ("a heart unhinged by theories"), a heap of moral relativism, and a little bit of God. Galen Joseph Osier is only Raskolnikov; the two other actors, Mark Fullerton and Hana Lass, portray Inspector Porfiry, redemptive Sonya, drunk old Marmeladov, and the murdered sisters Alyona and Lizaveta.

Clever staging and a meaningful preponderance of burlap (rough, common, easily unraveled) provide an entertaining and nuanced glimpse into the Central Themes of Crime and Punishment: the crush of poverty, the prison of guilt, and the inescapable ordinariness of humans. It's Cliffs Notesy, as reductions tend to be—small and cursory, like it belongs on a syllabus.

But the actors bring it (particularly the infectiously jumpy Osier), and Dostoevsky's words—"yellow, human stains; all worn out, all faded"—are beyond argument. It's an enjoyable and educational night of theater for philistines like me. Bonus: The bar sells vodka. LINDY WEST


Theater Schmeater

Through June 23.

The acting in Theater Schmeater's production of Bug is good. The story is weak. If it had dominated this production, the experience of watching this play—which is also running in theaters as a movie starring Ashley Judd—would have been very painful. (Bug the film and Bug the play, both written by Tracy Letts, opened on the same day, May 25.) The smart idea by Carol Roscoe, the play's director, is to concentrate on the relationship between two very lonely people and the madness that eventually destroys them.

The two lonely people are Peter (Colin Byrne) and Agnes (Marty Mukhalian). Agnes is a 43-year-old waitress. She lives in a motel. She drinks too much. She fears that her ex-husband (Jim Lapan), who has just been released from prison, will return to the remains of her ruined life. One evening, Agnes's friend (Angela DiMarco) introduces her to a young man, Peter. Agnes is strangely attracted to the handsome Peter, and Peter is strangely attracted to the world-weary Agnes. The mystery of their attraction is what the actors exploit and the audience enjoys. But, by the last third of the play, this provocative mystery is cleared by two dull facts: one, Peter is a veteran of the first Iraq war, so he has some serious psychological issues; two, Agnes's son is one of those lost kids found on the backs of milk cartons, so she has some serious psychological issues. Their issues combine to form the explanation for their attraction. They are not Plato's birth-parted souls searching for happiness and reunion in a fallen world (the mystery); they are just broken souls looking for a way out of this fallen world (the explanation). And, sure enough, they find a horrible way out. CHARLES MUDEDE

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