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TO OCT. 1

England’s dreary Guardian championed Top Girls as “the best British play ever from a woman dramatist” after its original West End staging. Twenty-three years later, the statement still reeks of patriarchal know-nothingness, though it’s an accurate—if entirely dismal—appraisal of exactly what playwright Caryl Churchill was railing against with this stringent feminist declaration. Language is of particular importance here: Churchill eschewed the pregnant pauses and implied menace of her contemporaries Harold Pinter and Edward Albee with a diametrically opposed take on naturalistic dialogue. Dorothy Neumann’s staging for the Fountainhead Theatre brings an appropriately chaotic air to the dinner party that temp-agency director Marlene hosts for a group of women Churchill culled from the annals of art, history, and literature. Frank and graphic discussions of rape and murder give way to more earthly Thatcher-era concerns in the second act, and Neumann’s wonderful ensemble digs its collective heels into an atmosphere that Marlene’s young relative Angie describes as “frightening.” Charlotte Akin—fresh from a whip-smart supporting turn in the Studio Theatre’s The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow—transforms herself from shrinking violet to a Suffolk dead-ender with remarkable ease. I’m still wondering what the small handful of patrons who darted out after lighting designer Jessie Crain’s ceremonial bonfire of yellow and orange hues at intermission were thinking—there’s a reason Churchill’s best-known work remains her least-welcoming. The show starts at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturdays, to Saturday, Oct. 1, at Theatre on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington. $10– $20. (703) 920-5923. (Nick Green)