For Lachlan in the Saints and Cynics of St. Dunstan's moving production of "The Hasty Heart," there is little doubt that the world is a dire place, full of anger and disappointment. A classic loner with a mountain-sized chip on his shoulder, he spits out, "I have no love or respect for any man -- no one liked me and there was no one I liked."

His bitter declaration is a gauntlet thrown before the rest of the cast, and indeed the audience. His misanthropy forces us to stop and wonder: Is the human race wretched? Are our attempts to love selfish and feeble? And do we need each other?

In a sad, sweet and finally hopeful way, "The Hasty Heart" answers those queries about the struggle of each of us to push away cynicism and hate and learn to love.

The production is augmented by solid ensemble work from each member of the cast, a simple, effective set and lighting, and a struggling spirit that ties it all together.

The action takes place in a ward of a British army hospital in southeast Asia during World War II. The convalescents -- a New Zealander, an Australian, a Yank, a Brit and an African -- are all decent fellows, a wisecracking bunch who play cards, write letters home and worship their nurse, Sister Margaret.

Their bonhomie is shattered when a Scot, Lachlan, is placed in the empty bed. Lachlan is no simple patient; he is dying but he doesn't The play teaches us to welcome goodness and love despite the risks or reasons.

know it. The crew does and is asked to make his last few weeks pleasant. The prickly Lachlan does not make it easy for them, warding off all attempts at conversation, sneering at their gifts, and displaying what can only be called a bad attitude.

Lachlan's heart, of course, is finally worn down by these easygoing people and he becomes their friend, even falling in love with Margaret. And, of course, the big secret comes out and Lachlan, because he thinks his friends are his friends only out of pity, freezes up again. It is up to everyone to melt his heart one more time. And time is short.

While all the actors put in strong and even performances, Philip Morgan as Lachlan manages to convey this angry man's struggle with strength and gentleness. The only quibble with the play is with the sometimes unpolished line readings that slow down an already too slowly directed plan. This renders some dramatic moments limp. But these are problems easily fixed.

And at its heart, "The Hasty Heart" teaches us that we should welcome goodness and love despite the risks or reasons. "I'm all the people I've ever met," says one character. In a world where we move past each other too often all alone, it's a deeply comforting thought.

The play continues at St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in McLean at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For information and reservations, call 759-6924.