In its 12th season opener, The Rep Inc. shows acting promise, but Ted Shine's intermittently entertaining "Morning, Noon and Night" seems an ill-chosen vehicle for the company's talent.

Shine's play, at the YWCA's small Penney Auditorium, is a convoluted black comedy depicting a rural Texas family's gradual descent into madness, moving from morning's domestic quarrels through the strange heated interlude of afternoon, to the evening's grisly revelations of past and future murders.

The overlong second act, talky and repetitive even in the climactic final scenes, weakens the momentum, and Shine's concept is so fuzzy it leaves viewers scratching their heads. The bizarre finale features two murders and the confession of several previous homicides, and the pointless carnage leaves the viewer with an unpleasant aftertaste. Like the theatrical flashpaper used by director Jaye Stewart to suggest a passionate, cleansing conflagration, Shine's play initially promises fire but sputters fitfully and finally fizzles out.

Stewart's hand is all but invisible. The second act's proceedings are dragged out and repetitive to the point that it seems the actors are making up the dialogue.

The quartet of actors can't be faulted. All perform admirably what the script requires, even keeping the whole thing watchable, but they seem wasted in this effort. As gospel-shouting, homicidal grandmother Gussie Mae, Gloria Davis-Hill is by turns sentimental and infuriating. Thirteen-year-old Karl Brower is natural and funny as Ben McDaniels, although he tends to shout a bit. As Ben's world-weary Aunt Ida Ray, Debi Chavis is disheveled, sympathetic and quite believable. And Lynda Balthrop, as the slightly touched Sister Sue Willie Hollis, who has designs on young Ben, plays the role with a nice balance of humor and menace.

MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT. By Ted Shine. Directed by Jaye W. Stewart. Set design, Jaye W. Stewart; lighting, John Davies. With Gloria Davis-Hill, Karl Brower, Debi Chavis and Lynda Balthrop. At the YWCA Caroline Penney Auditorium Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 16.