Prince George's Little Theatre has opened its 40th season with a noble effort to give its audiences "The Real Thing."

That's not easy, especially when you're talking about one of Tom Stoppard's plays, which are typically jam-packed with complex themes, philosophical musings and wonderfully tricky word games.

"The Real Thing," Stoppard's 1982 Tony award-grabbing comedy about the highs and lows of love, marriage and adultery, is full of incisive dialogue, and it's easy to see why it was such a critical success when it came to Broadway in 1984.

The New York cast, which included Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close and Christine Baranski, certainly must have made the playwright's lines shine.

At the Prince George's Publick Playhouse, they don't so much shine as flicker.

Director Rod Wiesinger takes a sensitive approach to the work's underlying theme, the relationship between art and reality. Scenes cleverly but slowly shift between the real life of the main character, Henry, an English playwright, and snatches of Henry's plays.

A rather gray but workable three-part set presents Henry's apartment as a sort of raised stage, flanked by smaller stages for Henry's theatrical creations.

Henry, played in low-key fashion by Danny Brooks, has a sexy affair with Annie, a younger actress who has an ardor for leftist causes. Heather Quinn portrays Annie with the right measure of enthusiasm, especially for her pet project--springing a fellow war protester from the slammer.

Annie's husband, Max, played by Dan Lavanga, discovers his wife's affair when (like Shakespeare's Othello) he finds Henry's handkerchief in her car. Long before "Shakespeare in Love," whose script he co-wrote, Stoppard loved to have fun with the Bard.

Susan Dwyer plays Henry's wife, Charlotte, with a bit less of the nastiness that Stoppard's dialogue seems to require.

This play's vitality lies in its words rather than its actions, and Wiesinger would do well to push his cast to deliver them with more verve. Brooks's Henry, in particular, needs to be more flamboyant if his character is to strike the sparks necessary to catch Stoppard's words on fire.

Two minor characters offer more dynamic performances in the second act. Juuso Linnoila as Billy, a young actor who starts fooling around with Annie, turns in some energetic scenes, though he sometimes shoots off his lines a little too quickly. And Joseph Zanelotti gives a brief-but-memorable scene as Brodie, Annie's hot-tempered war protester.

Skye Isaac, in her community-theater debut as Henry's daughter, shows a confident stage presence but needs to work on her projection to shine more brightly in the spotlight.

During intermission Saturday night, a few members of the audience expressed some confusion about the plot, and the ranks were slightly thinner for the second act.

That's understandable: Stoppard's plays aren't always easy to digest, but the best part of the Little Theatre's production takes place in the second half, so the folks who hung around got a better taste of "The Real Thing."

The play will run at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Prince George's Publick Playhouse, 5445 Landover Rd., Cheverly. Adults $10, seniors and students $8. For reservations, call 301-277-1710.

CAPTION: "Real Thing" players: at top, Susan Dwyer and Dan Lavanga; bottom, Heather Quinn and Danny Brooks.