Olney Theatre Center hosted an informal dedication for its new mainstage theater last night. Artistic Director Jim Petosa says he wanted a "homey event" at which to unveil the 427-seat space "for actors who have worked here, technicians and designers" before the public events scheduled for next month's formal opening.

The $8.5 million theater will take its bow with a revival of "The Miracle Worker" (Aug. 10-Sept. 11), directed by Petosa.

For anyone of diminutive stature who has bobbed and weaved in her seat to catch a glimpse of the old Olney stage, the new space will be a boon, says Petosa. Whereas the "Historic Mainstage," as it soon will be dubbed, has hardly any rake to the audience seating, the new space will have eight rows of seats on the orchestra level with a 12-inch rise between rows, plus a balcony.

"There really isn't a bad seat or a bad perspective," Petosa asserts.

Well, hurray! is all your 5-foot-2 Backstage columnist can say.

"Most plays in our new season will be split between the new mainstage and our Theatre Lab. Those are our jewels," Petosa says. The Historic Mainstage will become "a supportive theater" for student productions, rehearsals and other projects.

Speaking of a new season, Olney's 2006 roster (the company goes by the calendar year) will open with "The Heiress" (Feb. 15-March 12) by Augustus and Ruth Goetz, directed by John Going. The play had been on his shortlist for a decade, Petosa says; "The idea of putting it in the new theater breathed a certain kind of life into it."

Olney's Producing Director Brad Watkins will stage "Anything Goes" (March 29-April 23), with songs by Cole Porter and a book by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse.

"The Elephant Man" (May 24-June 18) will mark both an expansion and a reprise of the version Petosa directed at tiny Catalyst Theater last fall. Catalyst's Scott Fortier and Olney regular Valerie Leonard will return as the title character and the famous actress who visits him. Petosa says the larger staging will be "a recognition of how a small theater can generate performances of significance. . . . We don't move things in Washington the way they do in New York," from off-off-Broadway to the big time.

Next summer's Potomac Theatre Festival will include "Hedda Gabler" (June 21-July 23, 2006) and "An Enemy of the People" (July 20-Aug. 27, 2006), the latter as adapted by Arthur Miller, plus a revival of "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" (June 28-July 23, 2006).

The season will conclude with Larry Shue's farce "The Foreigner" (Sept. 27-Oct. 22, 2006), and a holiday production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" (Nov. 15-Dec. 17, 2006).

Hamlet, Anyone?

Actor Karl Miller, who will be 26 on Monday, has already bitten into a plateful of plum roles, especially at Rep Stage in Columbia, working with Associate Artistic Director Kasi Campbell. Last season he brought his combination of brains and unmannered intensity to Konstantin in Chekhov's "The Seagull" and, the season before that, to the tutor Septimus Hodge in Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia." More recently, audiences saw him as a high school shooter in Round House Theatre's "columbinus."

Next season, though, Miller will tackle the younger actor's Everest, playing Hamlet under Campbell's direction March 24-April 9.

"Orson Welles said the reason it's impossible to play Hamlet is because the character himself is a genius," Miller says. And scholar "Harold Bloom believes that nobody can play him."

Miller has found that "doing 'Hamlet' is kind of like getting married," in that everybody offers advice. "Everybody has designs, everybody has a motif, everybody has a theory, everybody has [ideas] about how not to screw it up."

He warned Campbell back during "The Seagull" that he'd need a year to study and research "Hamlet" before rehearsals start. He was, he recalls, "utterly floored by the opportunity and trying to take into account all the stuff I would do before stepping into rehearsals."

Miller is also brushing up on Shakespearean technique with Andrew Long of the District's Shakespeare Theatre.

Campbell, who describes Miller as an actor of "deeply true intellect," says when she "started working with Karl, it struck me that here's my Hamlet and now's the time."

The actor will play another indecisive fellow for Campbell in "The Violet Hour" (Oct. 28-Nov. 20). Richard Greenberg's tragicomedy, set in 1919, is about a fledgling book publisher torn between manuscripts by his best friend and by his jazz-singer girlfriend. In the next room, a mysterious machine spews out pages from history books not yet written, showing him what could possibly happen to his friend, his lover, or to him if he publishes one book or the other. Miller will play the publisher, Bruce Nelson his manic "guy Friday" and Deidre LaWan Starnes his lover.

The other half of Rep Stage's season, chosen by Artistic Director Valerie Lash, will feature Jon Klein's "T Bone N Weasel" (Sept. 22-Oct. 9), directed by Jackson Phippin, and the solo farce "Fully Committed" (Feb. 3-26) by Becky Mode, directed by Susan Kramer and starring Michael Stebbins.

Follow Spots

* For theatergoers who like to live dangerously, Cherry Red Productions will offer Day-Old Plays on Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m. at the Warehouse Theater. Starting at 10 the night before, six playwrights will each create a short work, to be cast and rehearsed Saturday and presented that night. Visit www.cherryredproductions.com.

* Seven new works by members of the Black Women Playwrights' Group will be showcased in "Common Threads," their 16th annual reading Monday and Tuesday at Studio Theatre. Call 800-494-8497 or visit www.boxofficetickets.com.

* Artists from the Charter, Rorschach, Theater Alliance and African Continuum companies will offer free staged readings of politically charged scripts by such dramatists as Kia Corthron and Jose Rivera on Friday through Monday at Woolly Mammoth's rehearsal hall, 641 D St. NW. The event, "Washington Edition #1: America's Wars," will end with brand-new 10-minute plays and a "Brainstorm" about how to get more politics onto Washington stages. Call 301-422-8423.

* Studio Theatre will hold its annual garage sale of set pieces, costumes and other collectibles from its past season Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 14th and P streets NW. Call 202-232-7267.

Olney Theatre Center's new theater has a one-foot rise between rows. "There really isn't a bad seat," says Artistic Director Jim Petosa.Karl Miller's next challenge at Rep Stage will be the daunting role of Hamlet.