Welcome to the 1988 version of a winter drama called, "The Revival of the Losers." It features stocks that were deep in the minus column at the end of last year but have come roaring back in January and February.

A study of the Washington area stock tables reveals more than a dozen companies that have regained much of what they lost during the October unpleasantness.

Some stocks have bounced back because of new investor interest in small, reasonably priced companies. Others, especially those in the retail field, have benefited from improvements in sales.

One company, Mohasco Corp., of Fairfax, has seen its shares soar 84 percent in the last four weeks on talk of a takeover. The stock rose from $15.75 to $29.

In looking at the list of January-February gainers, it is useful to remember that percentages do not always tell the full story about price changes. A stock that goes from $1 to $1.50 has moved up 50 percent. A stock that goes from $10 to $15 also has gone up 50 percent. But the first is a gain of 50 cents, the second a gain of $5.

Since there is more investor resistance to boosting a stock by $5 than by 50 cents, it helps keep price changes in perspective if you look not only at the percentages but also at the dollars involved.

Amomg the more significant gainers since Jan. 1 are several retail stocks that have lagged for a long time. They include two major catalogue showroom companies, W. Bell & Co. of Rockville and Best Products Co. of Richmond.

W. Bell, which operates 18 showrooms in the Washington, Baltimore and Chicago areas, has seen its shares move from $4 to $5.75, a gain of 43.8 percent. The stock was off almost 6 percent last year. W. Bell, which has closed poorly performing stores, returned to profitability in its most recent quarter after a string of losses.

Best Products, whose shares were off 20 percent last year, saw its stock rise from $7.50 a share to $9.75, a boost of 30 percent.

Best closed 17 unprofitable showrooms and a discount women's apparel chain and has been struggling to find its way back to profitability.

The gains by W. Bell and Best Products reflect good Christmas sales and a natural bounce-back factor, said Michael L. Mead, analyst at Scott & Stringfellow in Richmond.

"The catalogue showrooms have been down so long that everything looks like up," said Mead. He said he is cautious on the showroom catalogue group.

Retail concepts have life cycles, said Mead. At one time, catalogue showrooms were "the hottest things going," but he now believes "the concept is in decline." And, despite recent gains, Mead expects the catalogue showroom stocks to "trail back off."

Other upwardly mobile retail stocks include Cosmetic and Fragrance Concepts Inc. of Beltsville and Merry-Go-Round Enterprises of Towson, Md. Both are large chain operations. Another retail gainer is Polk Audio of Baltimore.

Cosmetic and Fragrance Concepts began the year at $4.63 and rose to $6.88, a gain of 48.6 percent. The company was down 22.8 percent last year. The company operates 19 stores in the Washington, Baltimore, Richmond and Chicago areas. Sales and profits moved up sharply in the first quarter of fiscal 1988.

Merry-Go-Round, which sells contemporary clothing, operates 432 stores across the country. Its stock has climbed from $8 to $11.38, a gain of 42.3 percent. The stock had been down 25.1 percent in 1987.

Polk Audio, whose shares lost 63.2 percent last year, finds itself back up by 43.8 percent with its stock rising from $4 to $5.75. However, most of the gain for the electronics retailer came during January.

Other major gainers during the first two months were:

Williams Industries of Falls Church, a heavy construction company. The firm saw its share price fall 28.9 percent in 1987, but it has moved up 48.5 percent since Jan. 1, going from $8 to $11.88.

Tultex Corp. of Martinsville, Va., moved up from $7.63 to $10.13, a gain of 32.8 percent. The company makes fleeced knitwear, the material used in sweatclothes. Its stock was down 37 percent last year.

T. Rowe Price Associates of Baltimore, the mutual fund company, fell off 34.4 percent last year as the bull market ended. But the company has seen its stock climb from $20 to $28.50, for a gain of 42.5 percent.

The best gainer, in percentage terms, was Cerberonics Inc. of Baileys Crossroads, which owns a controlling interest in Insituform East of Landover. Cerberonics, a company with diversified investments, moved up from $2 to $4.75, a gain of 137.5 percent. Its loss last year was 77.8 percent.

Similarly, Insituform East, which opened the year at $4.75, moved up to $7.38, a gain of 55.3 percent. The stock fell 65.5 percent last year.

Insituform's business prospects have been improving after several years of rough going. The better showing at Insituform has spilled over to Cerberonics.

On the high-tech side, Halifax Engineering of Alexandria, a professional services firm, moved from $4.63 to $6, up 29.6 percent. The stock, an exception to the pattern of losses, gained 15.6 percent last year. The firm's most recent quarter was profitable after several see-saw years.

VM Software of Reston started at $9.50 and rose to $12, a gain of 26.3 percent. In 1987, VM Software dropped 52.5 percent. Last year, VM stock rose from $20 to $45 and then fell back to $14. VM's decline, after a long period of gains, resulted from disappointments in company profits.

Old Dominion Systems of Germantown, which offers computer services, dropped a sharp 68.8 percent last year. But the stock has begun to recover, moving from $1.25 to $1.50, up 20 percent.

Finally, there is Dominion Federal Savings & Loan Association of McLean. It moved up from $6 to $9, a gain of 50 percent. That compares to a 62 percent loss last year.

A year ago, Dominion Federal stock was selling at $17.25. But that was before the thrift was hit by a $129 million judgment in a case brought by Penthouse magazine. The company expects to make its appeal to a federal court in March.

Dominion Federal recently announced a third-quarter loss of 32 cents a share, compared to a gain of $1.21 a share a year earlier. For nine months, the institution earned 62 cents a share compared with $3.05 in the previous nine months. The first-quarter loss was attributed to a slowdown in consumer demand for residential loans.

By and large, the gains for these Washington area companies are part of a recent, broad advance for smaller stocks. The stocks lagged behind the blue chips for several years and fell again when the market plunged. Investors who placed their faith in smaller stocks have waited a long time for the improvement.

Heilig-Meyers Co. of Richmond, a home furnishings retailer, has adopted a "poison pill" antitakeover plan, designed to deter any corporate raider who might take a fancy to the $272 million-a-year company. Heilig-Meyers said it wasn't aware of any effort by an outsider to acquire control of the company. But, clearly, the firm thought it was a good idea to be ready. Heilig-Meyers' management noted that similar plans have been adopted by hundreds of U.S. companies.

Allied Capital Corp. of Washington, a venture capital firm, was one of the early backers of Atlantic Research Corp. of Alexandria, which was recently acquired by Sequa Corp. Sequa paid $31 a share for Allied's 49,817 shares, or a total of $1,544,327.

However, Allied's cost for the shares was only about 33 cents a share, or $16,472. That gave Allied a profit of $1,527,855.