SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO by David Mamet; directed by Matthew N. Coughlin; scenery by Chrissle Hines; lighting by James Karan.

With Ron Mulligan, Larry Alvord, Caroline Steinhoff and Lorraine Pollack.

At the Prism Theatre Ensemble through April 19.

David Mamet, the playwright laureate of Chicago, is paying Washington a rare vicarious visit courtesy of the Prism Theatre Ensemble.

One of Mamet's plays is paying the visit, that is. The play, "Sexual Perversity in Chicago," shorn of "The Duck Variations" (the other half of the double bill that won an Obie Award in New York) is being performed by a talented if slightly overworked cast at Prism's new alley-front home just off 18th Street near Columbia Road NW. p

"Sexual Perversity" is a seires of vignettes and a scenes involving two pairs of best friends -- Danny and Bernard and Deborah and Joan -- as they react to the ups and downs of the brief relationship between Danny and Deborah. Like other Mamet plays, theis one, while short on story and character development, is borne along by the staccato rhythms of its dialogue.

"Dan's been telling me all about you," says Bernard to Deborah.

"No," she says. "We only met Wednesday."

"He talks about you constantly," says Bernard.

"What's he say?"

"All the usual things."

Mamet's dialogue is an urban American variation on Harold Pinter. His characters rarely speak more than a single sentence at a time, but their forechat and backchat, at its best, is hypnotizing.

With a proviso: it needs ever-so-smooth acting and staging, smoother by a good measure than what it gets in the Prism production. Some of the problems are beyond director Matthew N. Coughlin's control -- for example, the clumsy scene changes presumably dictated by a minimal production budget. Other problems are less excusable, like the repetitive, back-slapping way in which scene after scene between Danny and Bernard is played.

But Larry Alvord, as Bernard, shows a nice comic touch, and has some nice comic lines to work with such as this male-chauvinist-pig comment on ERA: "We've got baby seals dying in Alaska and we're writing amendments for broads?") And the other actors who share the stage with Alford -- Ron Mulligan, Caroline Steinhoff and Lorraine Pollack -- are natural and convincing.

Underneath the verse-like prose of its dialogue, "Sexual Perversity" is a static play that ends up just where it started, never straying very far from there in between. The Prism production makes us a little too aware of that fact.