"Two Masks"

Through Aug. 7

American Century Theater

Tickets: 703/553-8782

She has bright, perky eyes. Really Big Hair. And a megawatt smile. Anne Richardson was born to play the Hostess in Elaine May's screwball TV game-show satire, "Adaptation." (The one-act comedy is paired with a tragedy -- Eugene O'Neill's "Thirst" -- in the evening dubbed "Two Masks," after the theater symbols.)

There's more to this role than you may think. Sure, basically it boils down to pose and smile, smile and pose. But the energy Richardson brings to it! The layers of meaning behind each smile! The sassy way she clicks those vinyl go-go boots!

"I'm one of those people who's always on the go," says the 24-year-old Richardson, caught at home one morning in the midst of preparations for a party that evening. (Still playing the hostess, we noticed.)

She needs that pep for May's fast-moving play, in which an average Joe stumbles into a TV studio and is swept up into a game show centering on his own life history. For background on her role in the farce, Anderson tuned in to the experts on "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price Is Right."

"Those women have to get really excited about Rice a Roni -- it's just ridiculous," Anderson says. "I try to heighten that. It's as if [Games Master] David Elias is God, and I envision myself as a vain Angel Gabriel."

It takes Anderson (pictured above) nearly an hour to stick on the false eyelashes, get zipped into her pink satin shift and tease and spray her hair. All for a part in which she speaks maybe two lines.

"It doesn't matter if it's a leading role or one like this -- it's the relationship between the actor and the audience that gives me energy," Anderson says. "And when I get done with the show, I have more energy than when I started."

The only part that tires is her face. After all that smiling, "it hurts," she admits, especially after the weekend run of shows. "Luckily, I have a couple days of rest."