SHORT EYES by Miguel Pinero; directed by Fredric Lee; set design by Tom Loftis.

With Wayne Anderson, Jon Carlos Brocaz, Raymond Green, Vernoy Hite, Richard Gaetiens, Steven Richman, Guillermo Labarca, Benjamin Wright, Paul Rouffa, Scott Hicks and Gregory P. Cavanaugh.

At the New Back Alley Theatre Thursdays through Sundays until June 8.

The New Back Alley Theatre's production of "Short Eyes" is either very raunchy serious theater or very classy gay pornography.

This is an uncertain netherworld in which the Back Alley's repertoire seems to specialize. One has the feeling that at Back Alley, a way could be found to interpret Othello as a closet homosexual, or work S&M into "Six Characters in Search of an Author." But happily, no desecration is required in order to turn "Short Eyes" into a tawdry X-rated evening. Absolute faithfulness to the original will suffice.

Set in the New York City House of Detention, "Short Eyes" was written a few years back by Miguel Pinero, an alumnus of that institution. Applying his prison smarts to the equally nonsense world of the New York theater, Pinero built a play around scenes of actual or threatened homosexual rape and related acts of brutality, and then tacked on the minimal amount of serious thematic matter necessary to persuade critics and audiences that something serious was being said.

The play pits a hardened group of drug dealers and other miscellaneous law violators against a new arrival -- a man accused of molesting a little girl. This "short eyes" (jailhouse slang for child molester) arouses moral indignation even among his fellow inmates, who subject him to an increasingly brutal hazing while the guards watch in apparent indifference.

There are talented actors in the Back Alley's production -- notably Jon Carlos Brocaz as Juan, the oldest and wisest of the inmates, and Guillermo Labarca and Richard Gaetjens among the other prisoners. In fact, the generally high quality of this cast is another miserable commentary on the depths to which actors must sometimes sink in order to act at all.