PLENTY - At the Arena through May 11,

The Arena Stage production of "Plenty" is beautifully and artfully staged. But so many of the lines are garbled by echoes, lost in airplane noise or simply swallowed by the players that it's hard to follow the thread of David Hare's lively little work.

Topical British wit is tough enough for an American audience when every word can be heard. In a play with 14 characters and 12 scenes spanning two decades, not in chronological order, there should be no thrownaway lines.

Unfortunately, the performer most difficult to follow was the principal player, Blair Brown. The play is about her decline from a tough and cool British agent in wartime France to the waspish wife of a wimpish diplomat for a crumbling empire, and one needs to know what she is talking about.

Voice projection is, of course, the central difficulty of theater in the round, and opening night was plagued with a rain squall and a wind that sounded like jets landing on Maine Avenue. Yet other players, particularly Arena mainstay Terrance Currier, could be heard from every seat.

Perhaps Brown might be better off to abandon her uncertain British accent which is more evocative of Madeira School than of England; when she delivers her lines in French her voice becomes far more powerful and penetrating.

For all the earstrain, the evening was an intermittent delight. Playwright Hare loves his characters wisely, if sometimes too well, and in the process of trying to tell us what became of the British Empire he also shows why there will always be an England: There are full-frontal nude scenes in this work that would be any American playwright who comes to mind, but they play without prurience in a British accent.