-- Life in America differs little from life in England, it seems. Parents fight. Children disappoint. Expectations die. Neighbors talk. Accidents happen. Music plays. People dance. And life moves on. Slowly.

In "Salt of the Earth," an award-winner from the 1988 Edinburgh Fringe Festival making its U.S. debut at New Mercury Theatre, noted working-class English playwright John Godber picks up the easy rhythms of working life, both in action and speech. Spanning 40 years, the play chronicles one family's struggle for survival against a common enemy: each other.

With familiar glimpses of rut and routine, and the inherent noises and silences in between, Godber reflects on the pangs of monotony, the way families can and will cruelly attack and embarrass one another, and forlorn desire for reconciliation after a lifetime of stubbornness.

Set against England's dwindling coal industry, "Salt of the Earth" shows sensible people trying to make sense of their lives when everything they have come to trust - honesty, hard work, family honor - suddenly stops making sense anymore.

However, director Valerie McNeil's languid pacing is further hindered by Godber's inconsistent conventions of straight narrative and omniscient histrionic asides to the audience. And the musical choices, providing commentary and counterpoint, seem mostly arbitrary. Still, the ensemble cast is strong, each affecting poignant moments by turns, and Ada McAllister and Dave Clapper stand out in vibrant, varied characterizations.

"Salt of the Earth" plays at 8 p.m. through Nov. 20 at New Mercury Theatre, 206 Third Ave. S., 324-8053. - Tom Orr