Mime soloist Craig Babcock, who gave his premiere downtown performance at the Washington Project for the Arts the past two nights and will repeat it this weekend, establishes his expertise and his communicative appeal in a matter of seconds.

That's all it takes to see his superb control over weight, balance and gesture, the buoyancy of his wit, the wonderfully expressive resilience of his features. He is, in short, a master of the genre. In my own experience, it is hard to recall any practitioners, celebrated and otherwise, of surer craft or intelligence.

Distinctive in build, with surprisingly narrow hips under a burly torso, Babcock crams amazing range into the program of vignettes, all of his own devising. He's equally lucid and persuasive as a secretarial robot, a naive immigrant, a midget gunfighter, a beer-guzzling sports fan, TV's Bionic Man or any of a dozen animal personalitiesfd he creates.

If there are limitations, they seem to belong less to Babcock than to the art itself -- an art ancient, pervasive, newly popular yet still strangely anomalous, as a way station between pure mimicry, illusionism and theatrical characterization. All the same, Babcock is a joy and a revelation to watch.