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As the middle class fades and the one percent consolidates more and more wealth, themes of desperation and poverty in small town America are popping up throughout contemporary art. Atmospheres of a failing economy and the often embittering human consequences are everywhere in Arena Stage’s production of Lynn Nottage’s tragedy Sweat, but those elements don’t quite congeal as themes. As Chris Klimek writes in his review, “I just wish there were something here that Bruce Springsteen hasn’t already illuminated, again and again, in the space of four-and-a-half minutes, with a melody to keep us listening.”

Competing icons of the cosmetics business clash with each other in the GALA Hispanic Theatre’s Señorita y Madame: The Secret War of Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein with a surprisingly dynamic result. Playwright Gustavo Ott combines history and personal loathing with an engaging look at American capitalism, bringing life to a subject that at first might seem obscure and random. But, as Mike Paarlberg writes in his review, “Ott and director Consuelo Trim draw terrific humor from this vicious contest… their characterizations are perfect foils for one another.”

In film…

Another week, another superhero movie. This time, it’s Marvel’s antihero Deadpool who seeks vengeance and falls in love and throws a few punches in a car chase, fitting the mold of the genre’s exhausting tropes and meager plot lines. Even when a few X-Men heroes show up, the base humor and canned jokes don’t do much to boost the film. “The vast majority of Deadpool’s humor is adolescent to a fault,” Alan Zilberman writes in his review. “Most of Deadpool’s jokes are one-liners that ignore drama and character development.”

In galleries…

In a mid-career exhibit of local artist Maggie Michael’s works at the American University Museum, Kriston Capps finds tension between cramped gallery space and expansive, abstract paintings. Still, Capps writes in his review, Michael’s defining, adventurous work puts her in the running as the city’s strongest painter in a generation. “Paintings as loud as Michael’s are bound to take up every part of a space they’re given,” he writes. “The only disappointment in her mid-career survey is that they weren’t given more.”

In books…

In her review, Natalie Villacorta finds that there is a frenetic sense of brokenness in Get a Grip, a new book of stories from Baltimore-based writer Kathy Flann. The author’s flawed characters all seem to face a pervasive disconnect between their own desires and actions and the expectations of those they keep failing. At times, however, the stories reach such a painstaking degree of sorrow that sections of the book can seem far-fetched. “All the action comes at the expense of insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings, which makes it difficult to understand and believe their subsequent behaviors,” writes Villacorta.

In music…

As a band’s sound warps and members come and go, there’s often a through-line between where the group started and where it ended up. For formerly D.C.-based band Magrudergrind, now primarily out of Brooklyn, District origins inform a palpable tension and intensity that dominates its music. On Friday the band released its third album, II, and it combines the familiar passion of past releases with evolving themes and ambition. In his review, Leor Galil sings the praises of the band’s rough yet precise vision. “Magrudergrind,” he writes, “lashes out against the dregs of humanity with a robotic accuracy and the kind of speed Internet companies claim to control.”