Brendan Behan's "The Hostage" is a crude hodgepodge of a play; with proper handling the disconnected scenes and ad hoc songs become a whole that is more than the sum of its disjointed parts. With less than that fine care, it becomes a confusing melange of raucous Irish-isms and tedious tunes, as the current production at the Studio Theater demonstrates.

"The Hostage" is the second play written by Behan, a veteran of the Irish Republican Army who served time in prison for trying to blow up a British warship, among other things, before turning to journalism and the theater. Combining Irish songs, a cast of colorful low-life characters who share quarters in a tumbledown rooming house and the thread of a politically flavored plot that has to do with the kidnaping of an 18-year-old British solder in retaliation for the impending execution of a young IRA stalwart, the show at its best entertains while jabbing its poignant message home.

One problem at the Studio is that the cast members perform as though they were in the Kennedy Center rather than a small theater in which most of the audience is at close distance. With a few exceptions, they engage in a style of acting composed of manic gestures, broad facial expressions and studied vocal patterns, and there is more than one case of voice abuse. Most of the leading performers really can't sing and, by about halfway through this three-hour show, the prospect of another uninspired blast from hoarse, untrained voices is daunting.

Kathryn Kelley, as the fresh-out-of-the-convent love interest, is a welcome exception, possessed of a sweet voice and genuine ingenuousness. Kurt Everhart as the hostage, the captured cockney teen-ager, has a strong voice--but overacts exhaustingly. Bill Delaney as Pat, the patriarch of the rooming house crew, goes beyond overacting into the realm of mugging; Robin Deck as his salty consort, Meg, rarely escapes the limits of a stereotype.

Richard Hart and Wayne Henson, as the two drag queens in the rooming house menagerie, appear in a succession of dazzling outfits and characters to match. But their excess--which is warranted--struggles to assert itself in the loud morass of other characters battling for center stage. Director Mikel Lambert has neglected the quiet moments of this play, especially the ones in which Leslie, the hostage, courts Theresa, and later comprehends the certainty of his doom. The other characters come to recoil, in differing ways, from the senseless murder that is about to take place, but their horror is barely recognizable here.

"The Hostage," By Brendan Behan, directed by Mikel Lambert, designed by Kenneth Thane Wilson, lighting by Greg Basdavanos, costumes by Peter Zakutansky, hair by Paul Bosserman, musical direction by Robert Martin, choregraphy by Mark Basile, with Robin Deck, Bill Delaney, Scott Schofield, Mary Woods, Annie Wauters, Richard Hart, Wayne Henson, Martin Goldsmith, Laura Gianarelli, Kathryn Kelley, Sarah Marshall, Hank Jackelen, Patrick Carey, Nick Mathwick, Tim Caggiano, Kurt Everhart, Timothy Rowe, Ritchie Porter, Robert Martin, and David Ingram. At the Studio Theater through June 6.