"Nuts" is a production that may be a first: a transfer from a community theater (Silver Spring Stage) to a "downtown" house, in this case the Source.

Although its community-theater roots are all too apparent, the play itself is the real problem and frustration in this production. The issue it poses is compelling: a young woman, charged with manslaughter, is fighting to be judged competent to stand trial, opposing her family and the prosecutor's efforts to have her declared insane. Intelligent and forceful, she would rather take her chances in court than face an indeterminate amount of time in Bellevue, medicated against her will and labeled insane. As a variation on the theme that those labeled crazy are no crazier than the ones doing the labeling, "Nuts" has provocative potential. But it isn't realized. Characters lapse unaccountably into confessional monologues, made worse by lachrymose writing, and apparently significant information is left out -- such as the details of her crime.

Playwright Tom Topor implies too much in some areas and overwrites in others (for example, the mother's rhapsodizing about her daughter's wedding, including the clear nail polish she wore, "clear as her eyes, clear as her heart . . ."). His heart obviously lies with his central character, Claudia Draper (Cynthia Mitchell), because when she finally takes the witness stand in the third act the play flickers into life, and the writing is articulate and compelling.

Likewise the production falters until the third act, since Mitchell is the only performer capable of sustaining any dramatic tension. Mitchell is too ample to convince us she has been wasting away by rejecting unpalatable hospital food, but she is compellingly fierce as Claudia, the angry, cynical defendant.

It is difficult to make a courtroom drama more than visually static, and director Betty Xander has not gone beyond rudimentary concepts in her staging. The other performers are earnest but unconvincing, limited in both skill and concept.