Angus MacLachlan writes plays about tough topics -- drug addiction and family violence in "The Dead Eye Boy," which ran off-Broadway, bigotry and vigilantism in "The Radiant Abyss." Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company commissioned the latter, which is having its world premiere at the Kennedy Center through July 18.

The three characters in "Radiant Abyss" engage in a roundelay of lust, deception and jealousy in the little real estate management office that is their world. But they also plot to sabotage the building next door because out of ignorance they fear and despise the religious sect that occupies it.

"It's very intentional that you don't know exactly what the group is," says MacLachlan. "It could be a very fundamentalist Baptist group. It could be lots of different things. . . .

"The fear of the other, I think, is prevalent not only in politics, but certainly in human nature. It drives a lot of things in the world," says the writer. "Nothing is pure. You can think you have these very strong moral stances . . . [but] it's infected by the person who's doing it."

The 45-year-old MacLachlan, who lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., points out a number of abysses in the play: "There's sort of the spiritual abyss. There's the abyss of being . . . at the mercy of things within ourselves that we can't seem to control. It could be love, it could be lust, it could be inner violences.

"We get caught. We get attracted. That's what I think the radiant abyss is."

Frank N. Furter, With Relish

"This Helen Hayes Award is doing no good on my mantel here," actor Rick Hammerly says he told folks at the Actors' Theatre of Washington. That was his shy way of volunteering to audition for the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter and lend his award-winning gloss to "The Rocky Horror Show," which runs tomorrow through July 25 at the Nation nightclub at 1015 Half St. SE.

"I do believe in theater companies like this," says Hammerly of the small troupe, which specializes in plays by and about gays, bisexuals or transgendered people. At the recent Gay Pride weekend, he and the "Rocky Horror" company performed numbers from the show for an audience of 300 people, "half of whom were mouthing the lyrics. . . . I can't believe people still know this show." He hopes it was an omen.

In "Rocky Horror," Hammerly's character is a randy drag-dressing space alien too enamored of earthly delights. It's a cosmic leap from his award-winning portrayal of the title character in Signature Theatre's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," a musical about a rock singer-raconteur living with the results of a botched sex-change operation.

"Hedwig was neither sex, you know," Hammerly observes. "She was trapped between sexes. Frank is a guy. He's an alien -- don't get me wrong -- but he's a man." Hammerly will play Frank N. Furter as a cocaine addict, partly to explain his abrupt changes of mood and mien.

Jeffrey Johnson, artistic director of the Actors' Theatre, intends to give the show "a harder edge" by bridging the 30-year time warp since its London debut. "What I'm trying to do is go back to the concert feel that it initially had and not try to restage it to be the movie ["The Rocky Horror Picture Show," a 1975 cult hit] on the stage." It also jibes with his goals of broadening the company's audience and that the show be "about the music and have that be the driving force of it."

A Lineup Change

Washington Shakespeare Company in Arlington will wrap up its season with "The Tempest" (Aug. 5-Sept. 5) instead of the previously announced "Titus Andronicus." Artistic Director Christopher Henley will stage it, with Jenifer Deal as Prospero. The feisty non-Equity troupe did a "Tempest" in 1993 -- "a different century," Henley notes. "I want this one to be different -- a little darker, a little more contemporary."

"Titus Andronicus" will make its appearance as the opener for the 2004-05 season, running Nov. 18-Jan. 1. Joe Banno will direct the bloody revenge drama.

Tennessee Williams's rarely produced "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (March 3-April 3) is about an aging beauty and a poet who courts rich old ladies. "We kind of pride ourselves on doing the ones that not everyone does," says Henley, who'll direct. Even "second-drawer Williams . . . blows everything else you're used to seeing out of the water."

"Medea" (June 2-July 3, 2005) will be WSC's first Greek play. Jose Carrasquillo and Paul McWhorter will direct, with Delia Taylor as Medea.

Peter Shaffer's "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" (July 21-Aug. 21, 2005) will close the season. By the author of "Equus" and "Amadeus," it deals with explorer Francesco Pizarro's conquest of the Incas. Steven Scott Mazzola will direct.

Throughout its 15th season, WSC will have Monday night readings of all 37 Shakespeare plays. Henley reports that the company's spacious, county-owned, slightly leaky Clark Street Playhouse is safe from development bulldozers for at least three years and perhaps far longer.

Follow Spots

* Three of the Tennessee Williams one-acts that Michael Kahn directed this spring at the Kennedy Center's Tennessee Williams Explored festival will be performed in New York Oct. 19-Dec. 19 by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club. Kahn will again stage "And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens," "Escape" and "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow," plus "Adam and Eve on a Ferry," a world premiere of another Williams one-act. The cast will include Kathleen Chalfant, Cameron Folmar and Jeremy Lawrence from the Kennedy Center production.

* Baltimore's Center Stage next season will present Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan" (Sept. 24-Oct. 24); Arthur Miller's "The Price" (Nov. 11-Dec. 12); "Elmina's Kitchen" (Dec. 31-Jan. 30), Kwame Kwei-Armah's prize-winning play from London's National Theatre; the musical "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (Feb. 11-March 27) by John Guare and Mel Shapiro (music by Galt MacDermot, lyrics by Guare); Thomas Gibbons's new "Permanent Collection" (March 11-April 10); and Harley Granville-Barker's 1905 work "The Voysey Inheritance" (April 29-June 5). Call 1-410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.

Janis Dardaris, Dana Acheson and Jeremy Beazlie, background, star in "The Radiant Abyss," an exploration of bigotry. Playwright Angus MacLachlan, below, says, "The fear of the other . . . drives a lot of things in the world."