A FRESH OF BREATH AIR --

(Church Street Theatre, through June 17)

Dale Stein's newest one-woman show reveals her as an increasingly accomplished actress with a bent for capturing what's funny and touching in society's oddballs. Using only a prop or two to aid in the transformation, she can go from a drugged-out street dude to an over-the-hill Broadway actress; from an organization woman par excellence to a lost waif, who explains her years of addiction by saying, "I was kinda an explorer." They all meet at Fifi Mouloir's French restaurant, sing some songs and tell their sad stories. More a surrealist than a satirist, Stein lets her imagination run wild. The whimsy can get a bit suffocating on occasion, but the best of her characters share a sense of loss that gives her comedy a bittersweet edge. When she is hitting her stride, which is about half of the time, "A Fresh of Breath Air" is captivating. Because of that, you'll willingly put up with the other half. -- David Richards

PROJECT! --

(Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, through Saturday)

In musical numbers and videotaped interviews, this musical documentary wants to tell us what it's like to live in Cabrini Green, Chicago's notorious public housing development. No one pretends it's nice. But the show -- put together by Chicago's Free Street Theater, working with residents of Cabrini Green -- also serves as a rallying cry: The tenants must be allowed to take control of their destiny. The cast of 26 is made up of disciplined amateurs for the most part, but they know whereof they sing and speak. "Project!" is community theater with a strong sense of purpose. -- D.R.