GETTING OUT by Marsha Norman; directed by Jane LeGrand; scenery by Kenneth Thane Wilson; lighting by Tomm Tomlinson; costumes by Vicki Abebe; with Mich Caruso, Ida E. Curtis, James Gregorio, Susan Goldstein, Leonard Martinoli, Judith Z. Miller, Darlene Reckley, Doris Rudder and John Rudder.

At d.c. space through March 8.

In one sense, "Getting Out" is the old yarn about the ex-con who wants to go straight. But in Marsha Norman's play which opened impressively Thursday night at d.c. space, the ex-con is a woman, and the forces standing between her and an honest living are much more powerful -- and credible -- than the usual gang of old accomplices preparing a new heist.

Arlene has just been released from an Alabama prison and driven home to Kentucky by a guard who, it turns out, means to move in with her. "Been a long time since you spent the night alone," he points out.

"I remember how," she answers saltily.

The second visitor to Arlene's new apartment is her mother, a harsh woman who welcomes her daughter home by telling her; "You always was to skinny -- shoulda beat you up and made you eat." Then comes Arlene's fomer pimp, Carl, who wants to take their act to New York. And then their is Ruby, an upstairs neighbor who takes a suspiciously strong interest in Arlene -- or at least Arlene finds it suspicious, not having had much practice at trusting people.

But the most constant and threateningpresence in her life is her former self -- the foul-talking, streetwise, "Arlie," played by a seperate actress throughout the play. We see Arlie in childhood, refusing to tattle on her father after an act of incest; in reform school, setting a fire to make trouble; and in prison, hiding a syringe in her hand.

There is nothing very complex or abstruse about "Getting Out," but the story is well-told and full of authentic touches drawn from Norman's experience working in mental hospitals.

The play makes difficult production demands -- starting with the need for two good actresses to play the same woman -- and director Jane LeGrand has done an astonishingly good job of both casting and guiding her cast. Susan Goldstein may be a little evenlybenign and well-meaning as Arlene, but she makes the character's struggle convincing and affecting, while Judith Z. Miller provides strong (if slightly over-mannered) counter-point as Arlie.

The key scenes of the play between Goldstein and Leonard Martinoli (as the guard), and Goldstein and Doris Rudder (as her mother) -- are the best scenes in the production. They crackle with energy of the right kind, and all three performances fit persuasively in the raunchy, southern-tough world of the play. James Gregorio's performance on the other hand, must fit in some other world. He has attempted what is undoubtedly the first portrayal of a pimp ever to be modeled directly on Liberace.