Theater;theater Mini-Reviews

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OPENING

* An Asian Jockey In Our Midst - Round House Theatre. Carter W. Lewis' drama, which uses body-swapping to examine racism, gets its East Coast premiere. Through Feb. 25; 301/933-1644.

* The Magnificent Yankee - Ford's Theatre. James Whitmore and Audra Lindley star in this revival about the life and times of Oliver Wendell Holmes. Through March 10; 202/347-4833.

* The Merchant of Venice - Washington Shakespeare Company. Shakespeare's play about love and justice, set in Fellini's Italy. Through March 3; 703/418-4808. Not reviewed.

NOW PLAYING

* Caballero de Milagro - GALA Hispanic Theatre. "Gentleman By Miracle" is the English title of Lope de Vega's comedy about a Spanish gigolo. Through Feb. 18; 202/234-7174.

* The Cocktail Party - Washington Stage Guild - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). The verse of T.S. Eliot's 1949 play is unobtrusive and lightly formal, but the great and influential poet had a stilted sense of drama. Conrad Feininger and Helen Hedman make the most of an explosive scene as a troubled married couple, but that's at the end of the first act. The rest of the play, lucidly staged by Lee Mikeska Gardner, evaporates into misty speeches masquerading as spiritual questing. Through Sunday; 202/529-2084.

* Coming of the Hurricane - Arena Stage, Fichandler Stage - (THREE STARS). Keith Glover's drama uses a black ex-slave who has vowed never to fight again and a vengeful white boxing champion to refight the Civil War. (Not for nothing is the play is set near Antietam.) The script's angels and devils are easy to spot, but the sheer energy of the play begins to connect near the end of the first act. There's a lot of raw shouting in the early going, but director Marion McClinton's cast comes around with a bundle of rascally performances, and Keith Randolph Smith's taut rage is potent. Through Feb. 18; 202/488-3300.

* Jaque a la Reina - Teatro de la Luna - (TWO STARS). A farce about infidelity, with political overtones. Writers Alberto Peyrou and Diego Santillan come up with some witty rationalizations for the king of a fictional nation to allow his wife to philander, but this is a plodding, obvious work that's only adequately played by actor-director Mario Marcel's ensemble. At Arlington's Gunston Center for the Arts through Saturday; 703/548-3092.

* Lynnwood Pharmacy - Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). Meet the Hicks: Johnny breaks into his own house, Ma totes a rifle and calls her boy "gahbage," and Dad cheerfully hobbles on a pair of canes and does all the housework. It's a farce, of course, and playwright David Bucci has an uncomplicated good time being trashy and irreverent. Kerry Waters, Steve Hadnagy and Hugh Nees anchor the vivid, foulmouthed cast. Through Feb. 11; 202/393-3939.

* The Man Who Laughs - Le Neon French-American Theatre. An original adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel about a boy whose face has been carved into a grotesque smile. Through Feb. 18; 703/243-6366. Not reviewed.

* 1996 . . . We're Having Fun NOW! and The Dog Plays - Potomac Theatre Project - (THREE STARS). "1996" is a collage (or barrage) of penetrating and/or pontificating scenes from past PTP productions. The performance is crisp, and the themes are always high-minded. "Dog Plays" revives James Sheehan's touching 1991 performance as the fretful center of Robert Chesley's wonderfully ambivalence-riddled AIDS drama. "Dog" is a warm, thoughtful show that is one of the real keepers in the PTP's archives. At the Olney Theatre Center for the Arts through Sunday; 301/924-3400.

* The Obituary Bowl - Woolly Mammoth. …