With works by Pulitzer Prize winners Paula Vogel and Tony Kushner and others, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's upcoming season will spotlight "small lives juxtaposed against big cultural/political currents."

"Woolly's famous for dealing with characters that are on the margins," said Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz, and the next season will get "at the very core of who we are."

"The Minneola Twins" (Aug. 25-Oct. 5) explores, often farcically, how twin sisters from a 1950s Long Island suburb grow apart, one becoming an ultra-feminine conservative, the other a "radical feminist lesbian." In it, Vogel tells "a big story about the evolution of American politics over three decades," said Shalwitz.

"Cooking With Elvis" (Dec. 15-Jan. 11, 2004) is by British writer Lee Hall, who created the screenplay for "Billy Elliot" and the short play "Spoonface Steinberg," which came to the Kennedy Center last season. Shalwitz described the twisted yarn about a disabled former Elvis impersonator whose randy wife brings a much younger man home as "a smutty little play and very, very endearing."

Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul" (March 8-April 18, 2004), written shortly before 9/11, is eerily prescient about Western involvement in Afghanistan. Woolly will co-produce the play with Theater J and use Kushner's most recently revised script. The first act, "Homebody," is a monologue in which a London housewife explains her obsession with Afghanistan. In "Kabul," her husband and child go there in search of her after she has disappeared. Kushner gets at "the sense of multiple layers of Afghani culture," Shalwitz said, and the "culture clash between the Christian world and the Islamic world."

Performance artist Marga Gomez will perform a new solo work temporarily billed "Marga Gomez Live!" (March 25-April 18, 2004). The comic and writer "uses her own small, little life . . . to get at big themes about the human heart," said Shalwitz.

Woolly's season-closer will be "The Radiant Abyss," which will have its world premiere June 14-July 18. The Woolly-commissioned play by North Carolina writer Angus MacLachlan takes place in a small-town real estate office, where the characters plot to sabotage a religious sect that sets up shop across the street. Their scheme is a "misdirection of their own anxieties," said Shalwitz.

"The Minneola Twins" and "Homebody/Kabul" will be staged in the Goldman Theater of the D.C. Jewish Community Center, the others at the Film Theater in the Kennedy Center.

Next season will be Woolly Mammoth's last "homeless season," Shalwitz noted. The company plans to move into its 265-seat flexible theater space at Seventh and D streets NW in fall 2004.

Founding Rogue "He's quite a guy, this old Ben," said David Huddleston, who plays the 70-year-old Benjamin Franklin in the Ford's Theatre revival of the 1969 Tony-winning musical "1776."

"The West Wing" viewers may remember Huddleston as conservative Sen. Lobell; he also played the jolly elf of the title in "Santa Claus: The Movie" (1985) and had roles in "The Big Lebowski" and "Blazing Saddles."

A few years ago he played Franklin in a Broadway revival of "1776." His research was not so much about Franklin's intellectual re{acute}sume{acute} as his personality. "He never ever, or hardly ever, got mad. He was the ultimate diplomat. . . . He drives the debate," Huddleston said. "He was like a giant rock star in his time. He was well known, not just in America but all over the world."

If the musical has a good-cop/bad-cop team, it's Franklin and the obsessively single-minded John Adams, who together bully and cajole the Second Continental Congress into signing Thomas Jefferson's much-debated Declaration of Independence.

"I think I know more about this guy now than I did when I did it in New York," the actor said, crediting David H. Bell, director of the Ford's production, which runs through June 1. Bell "allows [Franklin] to have more fun," said Huddleston. "He's more of a kind of a rogue" in this version.

Huddleston said he finds Ford's, where President Lincoln was assassinated, a fitting venue, since Peter Stone's script recounts how the Continental Congress found the slavery issue insoluble and set it aside. Doing "this particular play at this particular theater is historic in itself," the actor observed.

Troubled Places Rorschach Theatre will apply its lean, hungry, passionate approach to three productions this year, each set in a roiling corner of the planet: "Family Stories: A Slapstick Tragedy" (April 12-May 10) by Serbian writer Biljana Srbljanovic, translated by Rebecca Ann Rugg; Mikhail Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita" (Aug. 2-Aug. 30), adapted from Bulgakov's metaphysical novel by Jean-Claude van Itallie; and "After the Flood" (Nov. 22-Dec. 20), a world premiere by Randy Baker. "Flood" is about an American academic traveling in Southeast Asia to study Malay shadow puppetry, only to find himself searching for a master of the art form who has disappeared. Performances are at the Casa del Pueblo, 1459 Columbia Rd. NW. Call 703-715-6707 or visit www.rorschachtheatre.com.

Follow Spots

* Zoe Caldwell has bowed out of staging "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for next season's Tennessee Williams festival at the Kennedy Center, citing "personal circumstances." Gerald Gutierrez will direct "Cat," which will run June 1-June 20, 2004. Gutierrez, who also directs opera, won Tony Awards for "The Heiress" and "A Delicate Balance."

* Arena Stage will hold a mini-festival of readings of new plays featuring works by veteran dramatist-farceurs Christopher Durang, Beth Henley and Ken Ludwig and by top playwriting students from around the country. The 8 p.m. readings will take place Thursday through Saturday and April 11-14. Durang's "Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge" will be read Saturday, Henley's "Exposed" on April 13 and Ludwig's "Shakespeare in Hollywood" on April 14. Tickets are $5. Call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.

* Source Theatre Company, which has been lying low recouping its finances this season, will hold a concert reading of a new musical on Monday at 8 p.m. "Titus!" by Shawn Northrip is based on Shakespeare's gore-fest "Titus Andronicus." The event is a fundraiser for Source's Washington Theatre Festival. Call 202-462-1073, Ext. 13.

David Huddleston has big shoes to fill as Ben Franklin in "1776," now at Ford's Theatre.Woolly Mammoth Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz, left, has lined up some of theater's big guns for next season, including Paula Vogel and Tony Kushner. Vogel's "The Minneola Twins" will begin its run in August, and Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul" gets underway next March.