September 26, 2003





Family divide on a rooftop


"Does Gaahd have a design?" one character asks early on in the unabashedly Christian comedy-drama "Lights." The design in question is for a Midwestern household's elaborate holiday display, but the line has a gentle metaphorical undertow and as such offers a helpful taste test: How much you enjoy the rest of Michael Grady's world premiere play will depend on how amused you are by theologically shaded one-liners delivered in a Detroit accent.


Not that Grady has constructed a joke-spouting machine. In depicting the uneasy reunion of thirtysomething siblings at their childhood home, ostensibly to help their parents construct one more Christmas diorama (on a nicely beat-up rooftop set by Bobby Bingham), Grady artfully weaves interruptions, equivocations and distractions among the confrontations and heart-to-hearts.


Gary Lee Reed's direction is expertly intimate, effortlessly rangy, and his cast is near-perfect: stiff, blustery Jim Custer as the patriarch who learned his catechism a little too literally; sweet Callan White as his forgiving, nervous-nudgy wife; lovable-lug John Senekdjian as their emotionally backed-up son; elastic Gary Clemmer as his sensitive younger brother; and Wendy Shapero as their stubbornly honest sister, disowned by Dad when she converted to Judaism.


Even those who can't quite take such a sectarian family conflict seriously should appreciate Grady's often bleakly witty observations on the increasingly atomized contemporary family and the admirable subtlety with which he engineers the inevitable conciliatory denouement. Ultimately, "Lights" gives off an authentic flicker and glow, even for those who are dubious about its power source.

Rob Kendt


"Lights," Actors Co-op Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Ends Nov. 16 (no show on Oct. 31). $17-22. (323) 462-8460. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.