Actors and directors seem to love "unpacking" the meaning in playwright Kenneth Lonergan's seemingly casual, tip-of-the-tongue dialogue and embodying his vivid everyday characters.

Jason Schuchman, 24, plays Jeff, a lonely night security guard in a Manhattan apartment building, who suddenly faces a moral dilemma in Lonergan's "Lobby Hero," at Studio Theatre through July 7. Schuchman first played the role at Boston's Lyric Stage Company, earning a best-actor award from the Independent Reviewers of New England.

His Jeff is a veritable spice rack of nervous tics. "I kind of explored physical traits that were sheepish. A lot of head-hanging, feet-shuffling. In this production I have this rubber band . . . on my wrist that is kind of like a security blanket. . . . He plays with it a lot." In Boston, said Schuchman, "my parents came to see the show, and people were asking them if I was really like that. They said, thankfully, no."

And though the dialogue may sound as if it were overheard in a real lobby, "there's also a heightened quality that comes from a character's aspirations," director J.R. Sullivan said by phone recently from Utah (he's associate artistic director of the Utah Shakespearean Festival). Lonergan's slice-of-life plays show people "just trying to figure out the very best way to get through [life] and do it with some sense of decency and honor, often with circumstances that don't allow for that," Sullivan said.

Making a smashing two-play Lonergan rep with "Lobby Hero," Studio's non-Equity Secondstage is tearing into "This Is Our Youth," through June 23. It follows a trio of disaffected, love-starved, pot-addled young people in 1982 trying to figure out what the heck they want.

The material is "really great for actors," said Studio's Serge Seiden, who directed "Youth." "They just chew on it. It has so much richness to it." He continued, "You have to unpack every line" in rehearsal. After they've mined all the meaning, the actors can "speed it up" again.

Washington-based Karl Miller ("Kit Marlowe," "Lord of the Flies") plays Warren, a dropout who shows up at his dope dealer pal's flat after his dad tosses him out. Like Jeff in "Lobby Hero," Warren struggles to stand up to his bullying buddy and reach out to the girl he loves.

Miller lusted after the role back at Wittenberg University in Ohio. "It was a fave of our little dark cabal" of acting students, he said after the show recently.

"When you read it, it seems kind of actor-proof," said Miller. "It's so incredibly specific. . . . Reading it seems effortless and you hope that watching it seems effortless."

Warren has one speech in which Lonergan inserts "like" about, like, a dozen times. "We have a writer who's taken the time to put them in there after every clause," marveled Miller. "It's completely truthful, I think."

Samba and Soaps When Gala Hispanic Theatre's Hugo Medrano needed a writer for an original show about Brazil and its roots music, a friend suggested he find someone who writes for Brazilian soap operas.

"I thought it was a good idea, because soap opera in Brazil is a very big thing," said Medrano last week. "It's part of life. It's not fake, it's real." He found Sandra Louzada, a playwright, television journalist and soap opera writer.

Consulting with Medrano in a stream of e-mails, faxes and phone conversations from Rio de Janeiro, Louzada created the script for "Brasil: As Coisas do Samba (Brazil: The Soul of Samba)." The show, produced with the Washington Performing Arts Society, runs Thursday through July 7 at the Warehouse, 1021 Seventh St. NW.

Meeting backstage as the set was being installed last week, Louzada said her goal was to create "a historical musical journal of Brazil." Brazil "is more than samba . . . and jungle and [soccer]," she said. "We are this [but], we are more."

The show begins during Carnaval in the 1950s with a brief appearance by dictator (and later elected-president) Getulio Vargas. But more often, actors will play ordinary people and their descendants caught in the dramatic flow of events, which are reflected in the sambas of the times. They'll sing and dance to songs by such lights of Brazilian music as Cartola, Chico Buarque, Ari Barroso, Vinicius de Moraes, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Caetano Veloso.

"Samba comes from the beginning of the 20th century," said Louzada. Earlier music mixed African sounds with the Portuguese musical tradition. "We had a European root, but the African roots were stronger," she said. There are many, many kinds of samba now -- samba cancao, which is romantic, samba pop, samba rock, samba reggae and so on.

"What we understand at the end of the show is the Brazilian music and the Brazilian people go together and depend on one another to exist, because we need music to live and Brazilian music needs a special people like we are," she said. "Brazilian music tells our story."

Follow Spots

* Project Y will have a pay-what-you-can preview of David Rabe's "In the Boom Boom Room" tonight at Source Theatre. It runs in rep with Source's "Dutchman," by Amiri Baraka. Call 202-462-1073, Ext. 12, or visit www.projectydc.org. For "Dutchman" visit www.source theatre.org.

* The Shakespeare Theatre-George Washington University Academy for Classical Acting will showcase the Class of 2002 in "All's Well That Ends Well" at 7:30 tonight through Saturday at the Shakespeare Theatre Studios (507 Eighth St. SE). Space is limited for the free performance; call 202-547-3230, Ext. 2752, for reservations.

* "Sweeney Todd" star Brian Stokes Mitchell will chat, answer questions and sing June 11 at Poe Middle School in Annandale as part of the free ArtSpeak! program. Call 703-813-3800.

* Three more performers from the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration will sing for free and for all at the center's Millennium Stage. John Barrowman will perform a selection of show tunes on June 11. Cris Groenendaal will appear June 20, also singing Broadway classics. On June 24, Alice Ripley will perform songs she wrote for her "Everything's Fine" album. All shows are at 6 p.m.

"When you read it, it seems kind of actor-proof," says Karl Miller, far left, of Kenneth Lonergan's "This Is Our Youth." Above, Jason Schuchman (left) and Clark Jackson in the playwright's "Lobby Hero."Gala Hispanic Theatre's Hugo Medrano with Sandra Louzada, who wrote "Brasil: As Coisas do Samba."