EARLY DAYS -- At the Einsenhower Theater through June 20.

A dramatic recital for the distinquished old actor, Sir Ralph Richardson, is being presented under the name of "Early Days" at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater.

It's not Sir Ralph's early days of dramatic combustion that are referred to, but those of a lightly sketched character created for his appearance, an early politician of failing powers who's being barely tolerated by his immediate descendents. He makes lewd remarks to his respectable daughter, snide ones to her husband, peevish complaints to his doctor and his butlerish companion, hypocritical appeals to his dead wife, and irascible but obvious paradoxes -- "Anyone who pursues decency in public must lead a disreputable private life" -- to anyone who will listen, generally only the audience.

His early days involved rising through trade from poverty to politics, and then being shunted off to early knighthood when he missed stardom. Although most of the characters assert that this has earned him renown, and the fact that the companion's children had missed hearing of him is attributed to the irony of history's having such a bad memory, it seems hardly the career to justify the tediousness of the retirement attitude he seeks to inflict.

The fact is that Lindsay Anderson has asserted that he had written a play for Sir Ralph Richardson -- a risky enough endeavor, when the star vehicle is so apt to become unhitched -- and that's not what he has done. It is at best a character sketch of a not-very-distinguished character at the least interesting part of his life.Nothing could be less true than his observation that "I've so much to say, yet there is no one here to listen." We are all listening respectfully, but are told nothing.

Failing a triumph of accumulated wisdom to compensate for the lack of dramatic conflict, it would be fitting if the actor transcended the material. But the famous leonine posture is crumpled, and the resounding voice is -- unfortunately, somewhat slurred. It may perfectly well be argued that the old man should no longer be able to muster his professional skill, a rhetorical style of a grandeur one can no longer find, but surely the actor's doing so, just once more, was the excuse for this otherwise sterile exercise.