THE GOSPEL TRUTH --

(Warner Theater, through Sunday)

Good-humored and high-spirited, "The Gospel Truth" does the wise thing -- it stands aside and lets its songs take wing. The story of a pastor whose comfortable ministry is shaken up by the aggressive tactics of his newly-ordained son, provides a simple, efficient frame for the soulfully showbizzy songs by ex-Motown hit writer William "Mickey" Stevenson. These are exuberantly sung by a cast which stars Johnny Brown, who is an abundantly ingratiating presence.

NO END OF BLAME --

(Castle Arts Center, alternating with "Trial of the Catonsville Nine" through August 30)

The audacious opening scene of "No End of Blame" covers more ground than most writers dare in an entire play. In its abundance of energy and conviction, it introduces Washington to an extraordinary playwright, British writer Howard Barker, and heralds the remarkable debut of the Potomac Theater Project at the Castle Arts Center. Ranging over seven decades and nearly as many countries, Barker's drama speaks sharply -- shouts, in fact -- about the illusion of individual freedom under any form of government, and questions the responsibility of the artist, specifically the political cartoonist, whose humble line has the power to amuse and enlighten the masses while enraging their leaders. The production is driven by director Richard Romagnoli's playfully sardonic touches and the magnetic performance of Robert Emmet as the play's protagonist, cartoonist Bela Verachek, who gets under the skin of political regimes wherever he travels.