SOUTH PACIFIC --

(Wolf Trap, through Sunday)

The veteran Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, which has just been recommissioned as a showcase for star Robert Goulet, is currently docked at Wolf Trap. And after 38 years, the vehicle is still unsinkable, buoyed by oceans of melody and technicolored sets. It's the performances that are lost at sea. Director Rob Fields takes a museum curator's approach to the Broadway classic, giving it an unsuitably static staging that would be more appropriate to a concert version. Goulet walks through the part of the exiled plantation owner Emile de Becque, and pretty stiffly at that. It looks as if he were following footprints painted on the stage, and for the most part he sings that way, too. But even given these generally uninspired performances, the Rodgers & Hammerstein score on its own still makes for some enchanted evening.

A TASTE OF HONEY --

(Olney Theater, through September 20)

Time does curious things to plays. Nearly 30 years after it shocked audiences with its unvarnished portrayal of life in the slums of working-class England, Shelagh Delaney's "A Taste of Honey" reveals itself as a surprisingly compassionate drama. It tells the story of Jo, a teenage waif, who is regularly abandoned by her slatternly mother, is impregnated by a passing black sailor and, for a while, discovers the solace of companionship with a homosexual art student. The play's shock value has long since worn off, which leaves us free to concentrate, as this commendable production does, on the unspoken love that binds these sorry drifters together.

As Jo, Brigid Cleary is a welter of contradictions -- petulant, self-pitying, wise beyond her years and ultimately gallant. Barbara Andres understands that Jo's sleazy mother is really battling time and its inevitable ravages. On the surface, they take after one another with anger and insult, but, deep down, they are united by a kind of desperate pluck that refuses to surrender to squalor. The men in their lives are less well profiled, although Leland Orser is affecting as the sweet, but spineless art student. Long before the advent of feminism, Delaney wrote with insight and intuition about women struggling to be more than pawns in a virulently male society.