"Simply Heavenly," the first production of The Rep Inc., is an example of how good acting can tranform a cliche-ridden story into a production that rivets the interest.

The Langston Hughes work is often silly and is based on the tired homily, "a good woman can redeem even the most profligate man." The characters are basically unidimensional: the good woman, the Scarlet lady, the kindly bartender, the alcoholic mother and the n'er do well. Even the main character - Jess B. Simple - is not clearly drawn and makes an inexplicable character change.

But it's to the cast's credit, particularly Robert Hatcher who plays Simple, that the audience does not notice the play's hollowness. So a work that could be the height of buffoonery garners genuine bellylaughs and seems believable.

At the play's end, when Simple gives up his sexy, un-loving mistress and proposes marriage to a woman who criticizes his grammar and whose idea of fun is a Saturday night stroll to an ice-cream arlor, it makes sense to the audience. And that makes a stretch of the imagination.

The Rep. Inc. has many of the original members of D.C. Black Repertory Company, which closed in December because of financial difficulties. The new group operates basically as a workshop.

The play runs Friday through Sunday at 3710 Georgia Ave. NW through April 3.