Catherine Flye and Michael Tolaydo are actors' actors in Washington -- respected character players, "fiftyish" (according to Flye) and with more than a trace of England in their speech. They also happen to be old friends.

All that makes them well suited to their roles in "Sea Marks," Gardner McKay's bittersweet story about a rough-hewn Irish fisherman and a divorcee from Liverpool at MetroStage in Alexandria through May 26.

It was Flye who gave Tolaydo a copy of the 30-plus-year-old play. He remembered it from his student days and showed it to MetroStage's Carolyn Griffin, and they planned its production with another pal, Nick Olcott, directing.

All that shared history and friendship made rehearsals easier and performances a pleasure, agreed both actors last week.

"Catie and I have a wonderful chemistry," said Tolaydo, who is also a professor of theater at St. Mary's College of Maryland. "Catie is very, very funny, and my sense of humor and her sense of humor are quite different. So they blend off really well."

"It's a joy," said Flye, artistic director of the Interact Theatre Company. "I think there's a lot in knowing someone so well and being such friends that helps in the discovery of something like this."

The play begins as a correspondence between the fisherman, who's on a remote island, and the lady, who works at a publishing house.

He's a natural poet and she recognizes his gift. This leads to a book and a love affair, but their different lives get in the way of bliss.

"Who they are and what formed them is so different, that for either one to go into the other's area and stay there would kill them," observed Tolaydo. "There's something that's poignant about that without being sentimental."

The Veteran . . .

The Washington theater community stood up for Emery Battis at last Monday's Hayes Awards, as the veteran of some 400 roles in a seven-decade-and-counting career received the special Helen Hayes Tribute. They'd already watched a film produced by Kenneth B. Dreyfuss that noted that in all those years the character actor -- who at 87 is still a busy company member of the Shakespeare Theatre -- has had only one stage kiss.

"Ken Dreyfuss was living in my pocket for several days," Battis said last week. "I had dozens and dozens of pictures. He couldn't get enough of them."

In his thank-you speech, Battis made a point of recognizing both the backstage crew at the Shakespeare and his wife, Elizabeth. "I can only 'halloo her name to the reverberant hills,' " he said, "and joyfully subsidize the beautiful and costly kitchen renovation she has so passionately embraced."

Battis is an amiable sort of Renaissance man -- a Harvard degree, a PhD in American history from Columbia and 20 years teaching at Rutgers. He now satisfies his pedagogical bent by lecturing at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum. Asked about the possibility of retirement, Battis said he'll continue to act "as long as I can remember lines and walk onstage. [Artistic Director Michael Kahn] has said on several occasions -- I kept threatening to retire -- he's going to keep me here."

Of all his many roles, Battis is itching to revisit only one -- the banana-eating recluse in Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape." He did it in 1949 at the Guthrie and would love another crack at it. Hint, hint.

. . . And the Fledgling

"I'm just a nobody. I was just a nobody, I still am just a nobody, you know?" insisted Mia Whang. The 25-year-old actress won a Helen Hayes Award last week as outstanding supporting actress in a resident play for her multi-character tour de force as the Reader in the Studio Theatre's "Far East."

The Virginia native had only just completed her classes at Studio's conservatory when she landed the role in "Far East," her second professional gig. In the A.R. Gurney play, Whang assayed all the walk-on roles, but played them seated on a stool at a sort of lectern.

Last week, she looked back on voicing young American naval officers, a New York Jewish lawyer, Japanese men and women, and all the denizens of a bar in Saigon. "I think we counted around 20 or 22 voices when we were finished," she said.

When she won the Hayes Award, Whang didn't have a speech prepared. Even so, the audience was touched by her tribute to her parents, Korean immigrants who came here with nothing and gave their children everything. Her parents and her brother were in the audience. "He and my mother have sacrificed and worked so hard so my brother and I can do whatever we want," she said later in the week. "In a way, I live a life not only for myself, but for them. Because there are so many dreams they had that they couldn't realize."

Follow Spots

* Olney Theatre Center is cleaning up the mess after a 100-year-old oak tree toppled onto its offices and actors' residence, Crawford House, during a storm late Sunday afternoon. No one was injured, though some 15 actors and technicians had been staying in the rambling frame house. Some will now bunk at other homes, or in a more rustic residence on the theater grounds in upper Montgomery County. Damage was estimated at $50,000. Publicist Chuck Benjamin said performances won't be affected, since the theater's two stages are in other buildings.

* The Feet of Clay theater troupe has been invited to take its production of George Bernard Shaw's "Don Juan in Hell" to the Commonwealth Performance Festival in Staunton, Va. They company has added three performances here before it goes -- today through Thursday at All Souls Church in Adams Morgan. Call 202-387-5729 or see www.feetofclay.org

* Teatro de la Luna is presenting "El Invitado/Houseguest," a 1979 comedy by Argentine writer Mario Diament about a young couple and an unexpected guest. It runs Thursday through June 15 at Theater on the Run in Arlington. Simultaneous English translation is available Fridays and Saturdays. Call 202-882-6227 or 703-548-3092 or see www.teatrodelaluna.org.

* American Century Theater is gathering Washington actors for four staged readings this weekend of Sidney Kingsley's 1949 drama "Detective Story." The pay-what-you-can performances will be Friday through Sunday at the Cherrydale Fire Station, 3900 Lee Hwy. in Arlington. Call 703-553-8782 or see www.americancentury.org

Among Hayes winners, faces familiar and fresh: Emery Battis (in "Timon of Athens") and Mia Whang (in back-

ground, right, in "Far East")."Catie and I have a wonderful chemistry," says Michael Tolaydo of Catherine Flye, his longtime friend and co-star in MetroStage's "Sea Marks."The storm-damaged actors' residence at Olney Theatre.