The once-promising Round House Theatre in Silver Spring continues its regrettable slide with a laborious production of "Rashomon," Fay and Michael Kanin's dramatization of the idea that there are at least two sides to every story.

Actually, the Kanins give us four sides to their story -- the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife by a fearsome bandit of the woods, some 900 years ago in feudal Japan. Each of the characters recounts a self-serving version of the events, claiming the heroic role for himself. (The dead samurai speaks through the mouth of a medium.)

Then a poor woodsman, who saw it all from his hiding place in the brush, reveals what really happened. The truth proves considerably more squalid than any of the participants have suggested. That's irony for you, and in "Rashomon's" case, it is positively leaden.

The production, directed by Richard Young, has been decked out with some colorful Kabuki trappings -- sliding screens, extravagant makeup, rich costumes. But it unfolds with the velocity of a slug going off to its execution. The acting is ludicrously inept -- from Daniel Yates, who plays the bandit as if he were in a Japanese spaghetti Western; to Beverly Brigham Bowman, who may be cast as the samurai's mother, but with her flour-white face and bow lips looks to have just graduated from clown school.

Because the crime is reenacted four times, fight director Nels Hennum gets to stage four different displays of swordplay and martial arts. One is no more convincing than the next and the last is a true howler.

Judging from the lavishness of its productions, the Round House is not without funds. It possesses a handsome facility. What is sorely lacking, however, is sound artistic leadership. Without it, the theater can only continue to squander the good will generated in past seasons. Isn't it time someone came to the rescue?

"Rashomon" runs through March 31.