Like Hemingway and Mailer, David Mamet loves to swagger in print, showing off his expertise in all the "manly" arts--gunplay, poker, swaggering in print. These testosterone-laden pronouncements, like the trendy poses he affects for book-jacket photographs, are always good for x number of inches of controversy in the press. But beneath the goatee, beret, and strategically placed earring--the look he sports on the back of his new novel--is an artist capable of creating rich and complex characters, even in a minor chamber work like The Woods. Ruth and Nick, the characters at the center of this Chekhovian play about a man afraid of commitment and the woman who tries to love him, are played here by seasoned actors Carri and Tim Sullens. When this wife-and-husband team first performed The Woods in January 1993 they were so good the play was heartbreaking. Now, almost two years later, they're making it the first play of their renamed company's first season (Tight & Shiny Productions has become Playhouse). Their 21 months of seasoning as actors show: they've learned to communicate volumes with the slightest gestures--a glance, a midsentence pause, the playful way Ruth picks at Nick's pant leg. Carri Sullens in particular has developed quite a range, playing with authority both the vulnerable, girlish Ruth of the first part of the play and the self-assured, outraged woman who emerges when she discovers the man she loves is just a confused little boy. It's an auspicious beginning for the "new" company. At Covenant Methodist Church, 2123 Harrison, Evanston, 463-8228. Through October 30: Fridays through Sundays, 8 PM. $12.