`THE LIGHTS' FAILS TO ILLUMINATE URBAN ISSUES IT RAISES

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* Howard Korder's ``The Lights,'' being presented by the Atlantic Theatre Company at New York's Lincoln Center, offers yet another illustration of the urban jungle, in which society is depicted as on the verge of apocalypse. Another recent production, ``The Treatment,'' at the Public Theatre, has a similar theme. It's enough to make you want to leave town.

Usually, a lot of theatrical energy goes into these visions of urban hellholes, and this production is no exception. The cast, 17 strong, maintain constant movement under Mark Wing-Davey's frenetic direction, amid pounding noises, deafening rock music, and glaring lights. All this sound and fury adds up to surprisingly little and surrounds a scanty plot involving two salesgirls (Kathleen Dennehy and Kristen Johnston) and their evening encounter with a mysteriously shady and menacingly generous businessman (Jerry Grayson) and his cohort, a soft-spoken and gentlemanly city official (Christopher McCann) who is not as nice as he seems.

One of the girls is romantically involved with the third major figure in the play, a desperate young man in debt to a local gangster.

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But the plot is less important than the atmosphere, effectively conveyed through a maelstrom of sensory overload.

Now and again, the playwright's skill sneaks through (it was more evident in his earlier plays ``Boy's Life'' and ``Search and Destroy'') in the pungent dialogue and the fascinatingly enigmatic character of the businessman.

But ``The Lights'' doesn't shed any light, it just blinds us with it.

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