Theater;theater Mini-Reviews

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* Sticks and Bones - Actors' Theatre of Washington. David Rabe's play about a war veteran and his not-so-all-American family. At the Trapier Theater at St. Alban's School through Oct. 20; 301/738-7073. Not reviewed.

* Will Rogers' USA - Ford's Theatre. James Whitmore stars as the American humorist in Paul Shyre's play. Through Oct. 20; 202/347-4833 or ProTix 703/218-6500. Not reviewed.

* Voice of the Prairie - Rep Stage Company. John Olive's romantic play, set during the early days of radio. Through Oct. 20; 410/964-4900. Not reviewed.


* After-Play - Olney Theatre Center for the Arts - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). Actress and comedian Anne Meara has penned a benevolent play about two aging show-biz couples who kvetch and crack jokes after their post-theater taxi crashes and lands them in a sort of afterlife cafe. Barbara Andres and Lauren Klein are fine as a pair of old friends with clashing dispositions (one is Miss Sensitivity, the other's a loud broad), and director John Going efficiently brings the play's romantic spirit to the fore. It's well-played, amusing and sometimes quite wise. Through Oct. 6; 301/924-3400.

* Beauty and the Beast - Kennedy Center Opera House - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). Disney tries to rewrite the book on theatrical spectacle with this stage version of the 1991 hit animated movie. Costume designer Ann Hould-Ward makes it possible for actors to sing and dance as candlesticks (with real flames), silverware, even carpets; other grand effects include a floating, fireball-hurling enchantress and a midair transformation from beast to handsome prince. There are some terrific songs and one fine dance as the cast clinks beer mugs in creative configurations. This is suitable for the entire family, but this staging of the tale of a beauty who gradually falls for an increasingly lovable beast is told with more dazzle than charm. Through Sunday; 202/467-4600.

* Better Living - Round House Theatre - (THREE AND ONE-HALF STARS). George F. Walker's play, as performed by Daniel DeRaey's driven, focused cast, is theater as caffeine: It's terrifically funny, topical and ultimately quite moving. Nancy Robinette is back as Nora, the batty matriarch who is digging in the basement to create an extra room under the yard, and she's joined by Jane Beard (as Nora's dotty middle daughter), Kimberly Schraf (the tough-as-nails eldest), Elizabeth Kitsos (the spunky youngest) and a scary Terry Wills as Tom, the father who tried to kill them all 10 years ago. Can Tom's return after a decade of wandering possibly mean better living for this singular lower-middle-class clan? Through Oct. 6; 301/933-1644.

* Blues for an Alabama Sky - Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater - (THREE STARS). Playwright Pearl Cleage shows off her flair for entertainment and controversy in this drama about a down-on-her-luck nightclub singer named Angel, the gay costume designer who looks out for her, and a distraught, inflexibly "moral" Alabaman who wants to save her. In the lead role, Phylicia Rashad effortlessly seduces the audience with Angel's stylish sass, then slaps everyone in the face with the character's ugly ruthlessness. Through Nov. 3; 202/488-3300.

* Fixin' to Die: A Visit to the Mind of Lee Atwater - Church Street Theater - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). Robert Myers' one-man play about the late political strategist Lee Atwater draws obvious moral lessons about the hardball player who repented in the face of death. What makes the show distinctive is Bruce McIntosh's grinning, winking, devilish performance; for Mr. Myers' Atwater, politics was a game, and Mr. McIntosh plays it beautifully. Through Oct. 20; 202/265-3748. …