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LIGHTS

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cture a Touched By an Angel episode in which Rosie O'Donnell subs for Della Reese—a plump deity from Brooklyn with wings and an attitude. Michael Grady's contrived world-premiere dramedy travels a long-winded path toward a formulaic destination. Despite the playwright's intermittent success with sardonic barbs at such well-worn targets as religious chauvinism and holiday gatherings from hell, his uninspired parable isn't satirically audacious; it's firmly rooted in Nick at Nite territory. With his quarrelsome sitcom family, five proves to be more than enough. The story surrounding lumpish comic shtick and family dysfunction angst has to do with estranged family members gathering at the parents' home on Thanksgiving to decorate the rooftop in the hope of finally winning the elusive annual neighborhood contest. The aforementioned wisecracking visitor from heaven had paid Pop a visit and told him he would find the remedy to his present unhappiness by entering the competition this year. Unlike those medication commercials in which the many side effects are worse than the disease, she neglected to mention what a painful cure it would be, courtesy of those nutty family members. Grady's script and Gary Lee Reed's direction are from the do-it-again-and-again school. Though it wasn't funny the first time, bully brother Stan chases his more sensitive sibling Mark across the rooftop—Wyle E. Coyote and Road Runner fashion—at least a half dozen times; we lost count. When the lighthearted tone shifts to somber theological debate, with the devout Christian father and converted-Jew daughter butting heads, we keep feeling relieved that they've smoked the peace pipe and we've heard their haranguing for the last time. Silly us. Like clockwork, their repetitious sparring matches resume at regular intervals. For the most part, Reed has assembled capable actors, but on opening night they seemed to be suffering from a lack of rehearsal, with an unacceptable number of premature cue pickups and fumbled lines. Beyond that, the material is not the sort that inspires prize-winning performances. As the closed-minded patriarch, Jim Custer struggles valiantly to find redemptive qualities in an unlikeable character. Callan White is a garden-variety sitcom spouse, trying in vain to serve as referee. John Senekdjian has good moments as the dumb-jock older brother, as does Gary Clemmer as his picked-on sibling, who is lucky to have the funniest lines. Wendy Shapero, a Goldie Hawn look-alike, underplays to the point of tedium as the prodigal daughter; when she finally shows some fire in the climactic scenes, it seems to come from nowhere. And as that saucy celestial being, Robin Knight is more subdued than one might expect, perhaps wisely. She seems to know that it's a wonderful life, just not a wonderful play. "Lights," presented by and at the Actors Co-op Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. Sep. 19-Nov. 16. $17-22. (323) 462-846

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