WOYZECK by Georg Buchner; directed and designed by Kim Peter Kovac; lighting by Deirdre Lavrakas; costumes by Peter Zakutansky; with Michael Henderson, Cal Hoffman, Janet Stanford, Helen Oney, lan del Monte, Timothy Quinn, John Jacobsen, Joe Kelley, Julie Lichtblau and Lisa del Monte.

At the WPA through tomorrow.

A young soldier comes home to discover his wife hiding something in her hand. He asks her what is is. "An earring," she answers nervously. "I found it."

He is skeptical, and more so when he notices the earring's partner. "I never found anything like that," he says dryly. "Two at the same time, no less."

"What am I, a whore?" she shouts back at him.

Then he gives her some money -- his wages -- as if to show she can depend on him for her support. After he leaves, she berates herself: "What a bitch I am! I could kill myself for it."

This improbably modern scene was written in the revolutionary commotion of the 1830s by Georg Buchner, the German playwright who died at 23 of typhoid fever. He never did finish the play to which the scene belonged. Even so, the fragmentary work he left behind has become a favorite of avant-garde directors in the 20th century. It appeals to modern tastes on grounds of both content and form. The story -- that of a hapless army private who is manipulated by his sadistic superiors and an equally sadistic doctor, and responds by murdering his wife -- is told in a rhythmic series of short scenes that convey a truly subversive view of the world as Buchner found it.

The production of "Woyzeck" that opened Thursday at the Washington Project for the Arts shows much of the same stark efficiency as the play itself. The set consists of a few well-placed platforms, the costumes are your basic all-purpose military/rustic, and the entire enterprise -- barracks scenes and barroom brawls and all -- is performed by a cast of 10.

More actors wouldn't hurt. More skillful actors would be even more to the point. These players have made sensible choices, but there is woefully little modulation within those choices. Director Kim Peter Kovac has struggled to keep things moving, and visually he knows how to deploy his troops. But the performances are so one-note that an energy crisis sets in well before the violent turn of the last few scenes. In short, and with apologies to George Bush, this show has a "Big Mo" problem.

It also has a sound-effects problem. Kovac and company seem to have been seduced by the WPA's ever-improving audiovisual support system. The scene transitions are accompanied by incomprehensible bursts of electronic music -- or strange sputterings presumably intended to be music -- and the stage is lit like a mugger's alley.

Nevertheless, this is an intelligent production of a fascinating play, and if resources have been stretched a little thin, that's probably better than not stretching them at all.