‘Mom’s Gift’ delivers entertaining present

Tribune Chronicle/Andy Gray From left, Emily Love, Amy Burd, Jim Penn and Lindie Schwarten are shown in a scene from "Mom's Gift," which opens Friday at Trumbull New Theatre.

NILES — There’s an unexpected guest at dad’s 60th birthday party — his deceased wife.

Mom is back, 11 months after dying following a hit-and-run accident, trying to free herself from “Lutheran limbo” and complete her mission so she can get her wings, just like Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The only problem is she doesn’t know what that mission is, and the only person who can see her is her older daughter Kat, who is attending the party only to satisfy the demands of a court-ordered anger management therapist (she shoved a cop in an altercation following mom’s funeral).

That’s the premise of “Mom’s Gift,” a crowd-pleasing comedy that opened Friday at Trumbull New Theatre.

If anything, the show is more entertaining than it should be in the hands of director Terri Gilbert and the cast.

There’s nothing wrong with the script by Phil Olson, who also wrote the musical “Don’t Hug Me” that was part of TNT’s 2015-16 season. But except for a couple of odd plot detours — could dad’s new girlfriend be the never-found hit-and-run driver? — it follows a pretty predictable path. “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t the only movie Olson borrows from for his heart-tugging comedy.

Olson knows how to write a one-liner, and Gilbert is skilled at getting her actors to milk those jokes for maximum laughs. And she has a mostly veteran TNT cast to do it.

The relationship between Kat and her mom might be tense; the rapport between Amy Burd and Emily Love, the women who play them, couldn’t be better. Love displays impeccable timing making comments on the family drama unfolding around her .

Burd’s Kat is smart and acerbic, giving some bite to her dialogue but also conveying the hurt behind her attitude and still feeling neglected by the father who she feels was too consumed with work when she was growing up.

Burd also is good with the awkward banter with Kevin (Brent Bunker), a neighbor she’s had a crush on since they both were in grade school. Bunker gets some of his funniest moments reacting to an unseen neighbor (voiced by Rene Penn).

Lindie Schwarten plays younger sister Brittany, a daddy’s girl who works as a Hooter’s waitress and dreams of opening her own bakery making mini muffin tops. She both embraces the cliched elements of the ditzy character and gets a chance to subvert them.

Jim Penn is believable as a grieving widower looking for companionship with his wife’s former caregiver (Jill Sakonyi), and he and Burd deftly handle some of the story’s heavier moments.