Pressley, Nelson, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
* Henry VI - Shakespeare Theatre. Director Michael Kahn, who trimmed the two-part "Henry IV" down to a one-evening affair two seasons ago, now condenses the three-part "Henry VI." Philip Goodwin plays the title role. Through Nov. 3; 202/393-2700. 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 Sept. 29; 202/467-4600.
* Better Living - Round House Theatre. The Silver Spring troupe returns to its favorite playwright, George F. Walker, in this "prequel" to "Escape From Happiness." Through Oct. 10; 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, 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. Bruce McIntosh returns in Robert Myers' one-man play about the late political strategist. Through Oct. 20; 202/265-3748.
* Kaspar - Fraudulent Productions - (TWO AND ONE-HALF STARS). Peter Handke's 1969 diatribe begins with Kaspar stating (with much effort and much repetition) that he wants to become a person; it ends with a trio of "alternate Kaspars" laughing at the droning conformist that he has become. Dan Awkward, an actor whose shtick seldom gets beyond loud and weird, is unusually poignant in the title role, and director John Spitzer's cast delivers the absurdist rhythms of this "anti-drama" with authority. …