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TO AUG. 27

Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse is a vaguely menacing 1950s-era drama about a self-interested ruling class abusing their supposed charges…and each other. In this case, directors of a mental institution—themselves apparently crazier than their patients—scheme to maintain the upper hand until the nuttiest among them wreaks havoc on the rest. This sounds more depressing than it is. In fact, the dialogue is often humorous and the sound and set design lively. Longacre Lea Productions lovingly re-create the 1950s bureaucratic diorama—the close-cropped hair, two-button suits, and heavy-rimmed glasses get it down cold. And I can’t argue with the acting: Patrick Sweetman as Roote, the institution’s director, transforms self-satisfied bumbling into an art form; Charlie M. Berfield plays a convincingly innocent Lamb—the one staff member not trying to outwit his cohorts. But despite all its strengths, the production left me cold. I suspect that’s because the play itself is an anachronism—Pinter wrote it back in 1958, holding an exacting mirror to that era. But the themes just don’t transcend the times. Patients referred to by numbers rather than names doesn’t ring so evil anymore. Seeing Hothouse is like watching a rerun of an old black-and-white detective film, where the characters’insinuated threats titillate only slightly. In the age of corporate multiliths, old-style bureaucracies like Pinter’s—complete with nincompoop directors and conniving underlings — look quaint. These days, we’ve got bigger problems. At 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, to Sunday, Aug. 27, at Catholic University of America’s Hartke Theater, 3801 Harewood Road NE. $10-$15. (202) 316-1659. (Jessica Dawson)