The Silver Spring Stage theater company was the big winner last weekend at the Maryland Community Theatre Festival Association's annual one-act play competition. The troupe will represent Maryland this weekend at a regional contest that is a prelude to a national championship and possible international performance invitations.

Silver Spring Stage performed Drew McWeeney's forceful drama "Sticks and Stones," which was named Best Production. The play's two actors, Andy Greenleaf and Michael Kharfen, shared the male Outstanding Performance award for their portrayal of a racist police officer and the Jewish lawyer who defends him in a case involving the murder of a black teenager. Bridget Muehlberger, who directed "Sticks and Stones," shared top directing honors with Bob Bartlett of Accokeek's Hard Bargain Players.

Kharfen and Greenleaf will perform the play again this weekend in Voorhees, N.J., at the Eastern States Theatre Association Regional Festival, where it will compete against productions from theater companies in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the District of Columbia. The winners of the various regional competitions will meet in Torrington, Conn., in June for the national championship. Many of the regional winners receive invitations from international theater festivals to perform their plays overseas.

The Hard Bargain Players theater company was first runner-up overall for the original play "The Tar on Ferrett Gough's Hands," written and directed by Bartlett, who, in addition to the directing award, won for Outstanding Original Script. Frederick County's Thurmont Thespians troupe was second runner-up overall for "Below the Belt," a dark comedy by Spencer Watson.

Sally Cusenza was recognized for female Outstanding Performance for her role in Rockville Little Theatre's production of "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls," Christopher Durang's parody of "The Glass Menagerie." The Sandy Spring Theatre Group's Lou Swerda was recognized for his acting in the company's production of the lighthearted fantasy "Abner the Baseball."

Greenleaf and Muehlberger were involved in last year's big winner as well. Greenleaf was the 2002 outstanding actor for his work in Howard Rice's "Tradition 1A," which won overall honors for the Rockville Little Theatre. Muehlberger directed that production, which was second runner-up at the regional festival.

This year's awards ceremony took place Saturday at the site of this year's Maryland festival, Fort Washington's John Addison Concert Hall.