"And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson," an affecting new play by James Leonard Jr., is a worthy addition to the current rash of plays about the infirm.

As staged by Tom Evans for Hanover College in Hanover, Ind., it's also a valuable contribution to the American College Theater Festival underway at the Kennedy Center.

"Jackson" moves non-sequentially through 20 years in the life of a little Indiana town and a young cerebral palsy victim who's trying to grow up there. The outlook-for both the town and the handicapped girl-is bleak. This is not an inspiring tale of triumph over adversity.

The girl is overprotected by her parents, humiliated by nasty kids, segregated in a "looney-bin" school. Her best friend is terminally ill. Her parents are not wealthy.

Nevertheless, there are enough glimpses of humanity and good humor in both the girl and the other townspeople that the play never droops, and the audience never stops caring.

Director Evans designed his own versatile, abstract set and used it with ingenuity. Not 11 of ih rcasotas are old enough for all of the parts they were asked to play, but they went through their assigned paces like pros. And at the center of the play, Pam Alvis contributed a sterling performance as the palsied Elizabeth Willow.

"And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson" should have a future.