PERFORMANCE artist and playwright Holly Hughes has never been one to shy away from controversy. Openly lesbian, she has been both celebrated and condemned for her simultaneously poetic and raunchy theater works and solo pieces. Her plays conjure up a thoroughly original world of hard-boiled operators and raging lovers. And in her much-lauded "World Without End" -- to be performed this weekend at Dance Place -- she weaves together a series of monologues that dwell on sex, the female body, her equally outrageous mother and much more. Little wonder then, that Hughes is one of the four now-notorious performance artists whose National Endowment for the Arts grants were vetoed.

The daughter of a General Motors executive, Hughes began writing monologues when she was 13. She spent her high school years in Saginaw, Mich., trying to get cast in plays and "rebelling against that Republican stuff." At Kalamazoo College, she majored in visual art; after graduating she toiled at Burger King and Red Lobster, worked with outpatients at a mental hospital, painted and struggled with her sexual identity.

In 1979, Hughes moved to New York City to attend a feminist art institute, and settled comfortably into the bohemian, tacky, inspirational life of an East Village waitress-artist. She found her niche at the WOW (Women's One World) Cafe, where she gradually discovered her irrepressible theatrical voice.

"World Without End" is perhaps the most accessible and potent of her works. With only an armchair, a nightstand and a vase of flowers as props, this alluring storyteller in the red dress regales her audience with tales about her bizarre childhood, tirades against the abuse of women and children and quips about the artistic path she's chosen. Hilarious, disturbing and all-over-the-map, the piece takes one on a journey that is not soon forgotten.