The world of "The Rimers of Eldritch" is ruled by rumor.

Lanford Wilson fragmented the narrative of his play into 80 scenes, in 15 locales, and mixed them out of sequence. The resulting exposition resembles an unsettling but tantalizing rumor.

Members of the audience put the puzzle together as if, like some of the play's characters, they were relying on street corner gossip. The playwright is the champion gossip, though finally he does allow the audience to know what really happened -- which is more than most of the townspeople will ever know.

"The Rimers of Eldritch" is the first production of the Studio Theatre, which is based in the Dance Exchange hall at 1443A Rhode Island Ave. NW. The play is a useful showcase for director Joy Zinoman, creator of the Studio Theatre.

It affords Zinoman's ensemble of 17 actors a wealth of equally proportioned parts. The cast is well stocked with a wide range of middle American faces and voices, and they are soundly integrated with each other.

Unfortunately the matter of Wilson's tale is not as fascinating as the manner of its telling. The story is a murder mystery designed to highlight the sexual hypocrisy of a dying town's most upstanding citizens.

The town's outcasts are supposedly the more sympathetic characters, but the most outcast of them all is stuck with an excessive speech that breaks the pattern of short, brisk scenes and fails to create the warm glow it's seeking.

However, one of the least sympathetic characters becomes a delightful comic creation through the performance of Deborah Stromberg. In fact, when Wilson keeps his sense of humor his play intrigues in content as well as form. "The Rimers of Eldritch" deserves a revival, and it's in good hands at the Studio Theatre.