ART

August is the cruelest month. Some worthwhile shows closing next weekend: "New York Interpreted: Joseph Stella, Alfred Stieglitz," an evocative showing of the painter and photographer in the East Building of the National Gallery; "Spectrum: Three Sculptors -- Christopher Wilmarth, John Duff and Peter Charles" at the Corcoran; and "After Matisse" at the Phillips.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

The Wolf Trap Opera Company's final production of the season, Benjamin Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," will have two performances, Friday and Saturday in the Filene Center.

Guitarist Christopher Parkening will give a recital Thursday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Mandolin virtuoso Neil Gladd will join the Georgetown Symphony Chamber Players Saturday night at the First Baptist Church, for a program that will include William Bardwell's "Little Serenade for Piccolo, Xylophone and Mandolin."

DANCE

Dance Place features a performance by the Claudia Murphey Dance Company tonight, highlighted by two new dances by Murphey; Friday through Sunday evenings, the attraction will be Assane Konte/KanKouran, bringing a program of traditional African dance and music.

FILM

For a foreigner, the Dutch-born director Paul Verhoeven sure seems to have a native's grasp of American pulp. "RoboCop," about a Detroit cop of the future (played by Peter Weller) whose bullet-riddled carcass is recycled into a computerized, metal-armored, 24-hour supercop, is a raid on pop and classical antecedents from new-wave comics like "American Flagg" and George's Miller's "Dark Knight" to "Frankenstein," from "The Terminator" to Arthurian legend. At heart, it's a revenge fantasy -- the man-in-the-machine's attempt to get back at the low-lifes who did him in -- but there's real wit and pathos in this low-art concoction. There's real brutality, too, and in places, the movie's attitude towards its own violent action borders on the celebratory. It kills and laughs while it's killing, and on this level it's joltingly cynical. Unlike other killing-machine movies, "RoboCop" doesn't rest easily in the mind.

POP MUSIC

Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson blows hard one moment, sighs lyrically the next. He's always worth catching, and he's at Blues Alley on Tuesday. Another veteran jazz saxophonist, Houston Person, opens a two-week stint at Cates on Wednesday with his longtime companion, vocalist Etta Jones.

Another week for great guitars, with the Pat Metheny Group at Wolf Trap on Monday, local favorites Pete Kennedy and John Jennings at the Birchmere on Wednesday, and John McLaughlin in a rare small-club date at Blues Alley Thursday through Sunday.

Singer-songwriter Chris Isaak is quickly becoming Washington's Marshall Crenshaw for 1987. He continues with his series of club dates at the 9:30 (he's there on Tuesday with Holly Beth Vincent, without her Italians).

Sisterhood is powerful: The Roches are at the Bayou on Monday, while the Sweethearts of the Rodeo are at the Birchmere on Friday, the same night the Forrester Sisters are at the Kennedy Center with Chris Hillman's Desert Rose.

Anita Baker may do as she pleases in this area, because she is well loved and appreciated as perhaps the finest of the "quiet storm" singers. Don't let her size fool you -- the little lady has one of the biggest voices in the business. At the Post Pavilion Saturday and Sunday.

THEATER

Garson Kanin's 1946 classic "Born Yesterday" (at Olney Theatre) gets an expert revival at the hands of a cast that knows its comic business as well as it knows the business of Washington. As Billie Dawn, the dizzy ex-chorine who learns about democracy and ends up putting her knowledge to practical use, Dorothy Stanley gives a delicious performance. But then everyone's pretty much on target in this production, lovingly directed by John Going.