The common college quilting bee trying to pass for Wendy Wasserstein's ''Uncommon Women and Others'' at the Huntington Theatre blunders its way into theater's most unpardonable wrong: It betrays the playwright.
Were it not that the production takes another step down the road to finding out what this company is all about, it could be easily written off. But this program has something to say about where the Huntington is today, and where it seems to see its role.
Wasserstein fashioned a hard piece of theater in this work about Mount Holyoke women who talk dirty and think confused. Her play of adolescent forces against rock-sharp realities can produce sparks and heat, as anyone who saw Nora Hussey's production here two seasons ago will remember. The tough center of this play is anguish and dismay over growing up unaware.
So much the worse that this center has been turned into soft caramel on Huntington Avenue. Not the least of the liberties taken were some wholesale excisions: The play was expurgated with nary a program apology. Toward the end of it, one of the girls complains, ''Kent is a very lovely, enlightened man who really wants to marry Donna Reed'' (star of the Ozzie-and-Harriet-style ''Donna Reed Show.'') And you have to ask yourself, ''Where's the problem? Donna Reed would fit in very well here.''
Director Nora Hussey gave us women full of dark, brimming metaphor in her Nucleo Eclettico production. Armed with immeasurably more financial and technical resources, director Larry Carpenter gives us girls made of sugar and spice and everything chic and shallow. He simply misses the point. Rita Altabel should not be a schoolgirl striking a pose; she is suddenly a woman lashing out at the loss of innocence. Kate Quinn is not Barbie Doll with a briefcase; she is the unleashed force of feminine will and intelligence in a world waiting for her success.
This play is loaded with comic lines (many of them obscene), and it will get laughs, as it does in this production. But it is also loaded with virulent ammunition . . . most of which is never fired here. Simply put, this production is just too well dressed and cute. All that it lacks to fulfill its bourgeois self-image is some Tupperware.
The impression left by this evening - following hard on the earlier ''Design for Living'' and a disappointing second-half season - is that the Huntington is a regional company with the soul of a dinner theater.
It's not just that the kinetic life force needed to make ''Uncommon Women'' into something truly uncommon was lacking. It's that one looks in vain here for the commitment and risk it takes to put on theater that makes your hair stand on end.