I was interested to read Jonathan Yardley's perceptions of Arena Stage's nontraditional casting of "Our Town" {Style, Dec. 3}. Though in the main I don't share Mr. Yardley's views, they are not unsympathetic, unthoughtful or even totally wrong-minded. The issue is, indeed, complex. And people whom I respect hold widely divergent views on how to achieve the goals of participation in the art of the theater by all members of our society and the creative representation of our contemporary reality on the stage.

One black director I know feels it is a negative, not positive, thing for an actor of color to lose his blackness within a white role. Another feels all actors should have access to all roles suitable to them as artists -- that color is an arbitrary and prejudicial reason for exclusion. Still a third feels that the casting of a black or other ethnic actor works only when the play can carry the weight of that important statement and when race itself is not the issue. And I could list a host of other opinions.

Discussions on the point of nontraditional casting go on constantly at Arena Stage as we try to forge this policy that seems so crucial to our institution. We discuss the issue each time we cast a play, for as Mr. Yardley suggests, each play has to be considered for its own particular resonances and demands.

I agree that the title role in "Purlie Victorious" cannot at this time be cast with a white actor. Nor would a white actor at this time be accepted as the matriarch in "A Raisin in the Sun." Perhaps never. However, I saw Faidy Lampley, a young black actress from Washington, play Amanda in "The Glass Menagerie" in a student production in New York (a role in which I had cast her) and, with her fellow white students, tear your heart out in that production. I learned from seeing it: it urged me to open my mind still a little further to the creative possibilities of nontraditional casting. Nontraditional casting in the end is a matter not only of employment and of art, but of the sensibilities of the audience; it's politics in the deepest sense of the word.

A theater should live on the cutting edge of its society, since it deals with the world of the imagination, and in that world anything is possible. Our task is, while not stretching credulity to the breaking point, to stretch it as far as we can, one instance after another, for once a human capacity is stretched it will never go back to its original dimension. Is not this, indeed, what we mean by the educative power of the theater? It seems to me that a theater institution must push for inclusion rather than exclusion, a larger rather than a smaller artistic sensibility and an approach that doesn't use the question of "historical accuracy" or the "relationship to reality" as a hiding place for old habits.

After all, what does it really matter in the larger scheme of things that, as Mr. Yardley puts forth, "as recently as 1980 New Hampshire had a black population of less than one-half of 1 percent and a Hispanic population of .005 percent"? Is that really Thornton Wilder's central point? And if it is, is it one worth making in today's world, in this city, with its particular struggles and needs? Theater is an art of the now. All of the past must be seen through the eyes of the present. And if our eyes see nothing in that particular excavation of the past, then it shouldn't make its way to the stage; it serves us nothing to retrieve it.

I don't agree that "Our Town" has nothing more to give us, but I would question Arena Stage presenting it in its 40th anniversary season in Washington in a historically accurate lily-white production. Indeed, had we been able to be even more representative of cultural -- human -- diversity in our production, I would be even more satisfied with it. ZELDA FICHANDLER Producing Director, Arena Stage Washington