Tony-winning actress Zoe Caldwell ("The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie") is among the trio of directors who will participate in the Kennedy Center's "Tennessee Williams Explored," staging revivals of three Williams plays during the spring and summer of 2004.

Caldwell will direct "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (June 1-20), the center announced last week. Her directing credits include "Othello" on Broadway with James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer.

Ireland's Garry Hynes will direct the first production in the repertory, "A Streetcar Named Desire" (April 27-May 16). Hynes is a founder and the artistic director of the Druid Theatre Company in Ireland. She ran Dublin's Abbey Theatre for a stint beginning in 1990, staging Martin McDonagh's "Leenane Trilogy" there and on Broadway. She received a Tony for "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."

Gregory Mosher will do the honors for "The Glass Menagerie" (July 6-25). At Chicago's Goodman Theatre in the 1970s and part of the '80s, and at Lincoln Center until 2000, Mosher produced and/or directed the premieres of 23 David Mamet plays, starting with "American Buffalo." At Lincoln Center, he oversaw John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation," Mike Nichols's version of Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" (with Steve Martin and Robin Williams) and the 1992 Broadway revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange.

Laczko, Acting at Ford's The board of trustees of Ford's Theatre has named Brian Laczko acting executive producer of the historic 10th Street NW venue. Formerly the theater's managing director, Laczko will take over most of the duties performed by Ford's grande dame, Frankie Hewitt, until her death by cancer last month. Hewitt's title was producing artistic director.

The board has not yet considered whether to make Laczko's title permanent or to conduct a national search to replace Hewitt, he said.

Laczko, who came to Ford's from Tennessee Repertory Theatre in August 1998, said he told the board that "in the short run, we will not make changes" in the staff or theater operations. But he told Backstage that he believes now is the time to review Ford's organizational structure and its mission statement.

"I'm certain that Frankie would have continued in her inimitable style forever," Laczko said. "She built a great institution, and she did it her way." While supporting Hewitt's promotion of family-friendly entertainment, he spoke of putting a heightened emphasis on quality of writing and production.

Ford's revival of the musical "1776," which starts previews this week, is scheduled to run through June 1. Laczko said he hopes to extend the show through the Fourth of July before closing the theater for several months for upgrades. Ford's would reopen in November with a new production of "A Christmas Carol."

A Doubly Challenging Role

"I wasn't interested in doing an impersonation or a caricature of the disease," Michael Chernus said last week of his wrenching portrayal of a man disabled by bipolar disorder in "Jump/Cut."

The world premiere of Neena Beber's play, co-produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Theater J, continues at the D.C. Jewish Community Center through March 30.

Chernus's character, Dave, is a witty, intellectually gifted 30-year-old whose highs and lows, even with medication, are so intense that he's unable to function. "He knows that he could've been something brilliant . . . could've done something brilliant," observed the actor.

Dave's last downward spiral begins when his friend Paul and Paul's girlfriend decide to make a video documentary about his illness. Made hyper-aware of his affliction, Dave chooses a drastic remedy.

"Somehow the act of ending your life seems worth exploring, questioning," playwright Beber said from New York. "I was also interested in where you draw the lines of what we accept as normality and when that crosses over into mental illness."

Chernus said his challenge was "to find a way to marry two completely opposite sides of the character and make them seem as though they're coming from the same core."

He got the part by a dizzying fluke. The original actor had to bow out and director Leigh Silverman was holding emergency auditions at New Dramatists in New York, where Chernus happened to be meeting a friend. Silverman remembered him and asked him to read. He was on the train to Washington the next day.

Beber tinkered with her script throughout rehearsals. "I tweaked up till the bitter end," she said. Chernus didn't mind getting new pages every day. "I love having the living playwright in the room," he said. "If it's for the good of the play, bring it on."

Follow Spots

* Craig Wright's 9/11-inspired "Recent Tragic Events," which Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company premiered early this season, will have its New York debut next fall at Playwrights Horizons. The play was nominated for three Helen Hayes Awards, including outstanding new play. And for viewers of HBO's "Six Feet Under," we're told Episodes 7 and 12 are written by Wright.

* If you wondered why the last three shows in the Kennedy Center's Sondheim Celebration received no Hayes nominations, it's because they were ineligible. "Merrily We Roll Along," "A Little Night Music" and "Passion" all had fewer than the required minimum of 16 performances.

* Scena Theatre opens "The Good Thief" tomorrow at the Warehouse (1021 Seventh St. NW) with Eric Lucas in the one-character, darkly comic piece about a Dublin hit man. It's by Irish playwright Conor McPherson ("The Weir," "This Lime Tree Bower") and runs through April 6. Call 703-684-7990.

* Woolly Mammoth will publicly unveil designs for its new Seventh Street theater tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the Navy Memorial Theatre (701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). Call 202-289-2443, Ext. 525, to attend.

Eric Sutton, left, and Michael Chernus in the Theater J- Woolly Mammoth production of "Jump/Cut," which explores a man's bipolar disorder.Zoe Caldwell will direct the second of three productions in the Kennedy Center's Tennessee Williams series next year.