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Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to Saturday

JACK and Alice lead listless lives, poster children for the stereotype some people hold against millennials. They're underemployed, unmotivated and suspicious of commitment. The rom-com, performed by Jenny David and writer Brent Hirose, tallies up the various ways the couple have taken damage. In a world where every sphere -- politics, parenting, business, romance -- is soaked in deception, why trust anyone?

The two have a clich©d encounter in a coffee shop. Their ensuing relationship fails in every way to explore the possibilities for intrigue and conflict suggested by the premise. Occasional zingers give testimony to Hirose's potential as a writer and the actors' ability to deliver, but long gaps of weak material between those bright lights are just filler.

This show should've been so much more. 'Ö'Ö 1/2

-- Matt TenBruggencate

ROPE

The 28th Minute

Alloway Hall/Manitoba Museum (Venue 4), to Saturday

BASED on Alfred Hitchcock's movie of the same name (itself based on a play), Rope is the story of two men who strangle an old school friend just because they can. They then hide his body in a trunk and serve dinner off it to their guests at a cocktail party.

In its 1948 review of the film, the New York Times lamented that "the yarn, by the nature of its writing, is largely actionless." That's felt strongly in this handsome, professional but static production; there's a compulsion to yell out, "He's in the trunk!" to move things along.

Flaws here are largely the fault of the dated source material, which simply isn't suspenseful or macabre enough for modern audiences. The dialogue isn't as witty as it thinks it is, but in any case, the nine members of the local cast fail to capture the requisite rhythm of riposte, nor do they project loudly enough (Talia Pura and Darcy Fehr are notable exceptions; Joshua Banman has his moments as the smooth, smiling psychopath who masterminds the crime). 'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Jill Wilson

RASCALS DYNASTY

Crosseyed Rascals

One88 (Venue 24), to Saturday

LOCAL improv troupe Crosseyed Rascals is known for its clean comedy, but on Saturday they invited some guests to join them and it was an anything-goes 60-minute show where skits featured some swearing and dirty bits, but never crossed the line into tastelessness.

The expansion to a nine-member crew helped add fuel to scenes when things started to flag, with members tapping in and out or getting "fired" when they were less than inspired.

The TV show-themed improv games varied depending on suggestions from the audience and what members were performing. A skit involving lines from reality shows and a channel-surfing bit worked best, while Breaking Amish and Blockbuster were duds (a cast viewing of Raging Bull is definitely in order).

Still, the Rascals are always energetic and enthusiastic and the venue (a church) is one of the fringe's best with comfy seats and a coffee bar. Bonus. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Rob Williams

THE WIFE

Snakeskin Jacket

Venue 17 (PTE Colin Jackson Studio), to Saturday

CYNICAL, sharp and often sharply funny, this Canadian premiere of playwright Tom Noonan's dark comedy cuts to the core. It's a play about surfaces and the tension between love and lust and married domesticity, and the home-like set gives local troupe Snakeskin Jacket's four excellently rehearsed actors a comfortable place to let their characters' neuroses flail free.

They have a great script to play with, as one couple's impromptu visit to their therapist devolves into a disastrous dinner party, tearing at their defensive veneers of gender and respectability.

The four actors capture this perfectly, as their characters' public masks collapse to reveal aching fragility. Jane Walker shines especially bright as spunky but damaged young wife Arlie, while Kerri Woloszyn lets rigid Rita's vulnerability spill out quietly. The honesty is hard to watch but beautifully human in the end. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö 1/2

-- Melissa Martin

RED BASTARD

Red Bastard

Alloway Hall/Manitoba Museum (Venue 4), to Sunday

'BONJOOOUR," croons Red Bastard as he prances onstage, awaiting the audience's "bonjour" in return. "Yes, this is THAT kind of show," he says. And so it is; your enjoyment of its 75 minutes will depend on your tolerance for audience participation (no one is safe).

Eric Davis is a magnetic performer in the bouffon clown tradition. Clad in a snood and red one-piece long johns stuffed with rubber balls -- making him look like a preening tumour -- he taunts and goads the audience like a court jester mocking a king, until he turns his shtick into a kind of self-help lecture. His wit and strangely beautiful physicality mask the fact that the revelations we're experiencing are fairly banal.

At Thursday's show, there was one thrilling moment when a woman in the crowd quit her crappy waitressing job over the phone. But on her way out, she was overheard to say, "Luckily my friend answered -- I'll still have a job tomorrow." Because this is that kind of show. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Jill Wilson

OF THE STARS AND THE APPLES

Elsa & Ellen Productions

MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2), to Saturday

TWO universes -- or possibly more -- are straddled in this confusing fantasy by first-time fringe performers (and cousins) Elsa Reesor-Taylor and Ellen Reesor.

As the script criss-crosses dimensional boundaries, the pair portrays best friends, mother/daughter, girl/babysitter, pixies, princesses, sprites... it gets hard to keep track. And it gets annoying.

The pair also performs some original songs with Reesor on guitar, but although they have decent singing voices, and Reesor-Taylor in particular has a sweet face and speaking voice perfect for the role of the innocent child-woman, it still doesn't clarify things.

They do try hard to deliver some profound observations, but other than a few parts clearly referencing female puberty and the plight of indigenous peoples separated from their culture, any further message is lost among talk of mango sunsets, goddesses, "giantesses" and other ethereal otherworldliness. 'Ö'Ö 1/2

-- Janice Sawka

ROM COM

Monkey Centurion Productions

Alloway Hall/Manitoba Museum (Venue 4), to Saturday

THE standard situations, scenes and screw-ups of the typical rom-com, from "meet cute" through to make up, are recreated in this, well, typical rom-com.

Nice guy Zack is bummed out after receiving a breakup note from his girlfriend -- written on a cocktail bar napkin and graphically detailing how she is seducing someone else at that very second. Nice girl Leighlee can only get dates with guys who want to bring their mothers along. So Zack's goofy and gay buddies and Leighlee's horny zany gal pal contrive to get them to meet before messing things up.

The cast look like they're having fun and zero in nicely on the genre's conventions, especially the obligatory "montage" (performed in pantomime) of the two leads wallowing in their respective post-breakup loneliness.

Most fun for genre fans and 20-somethings who are, like, totally in similar dating complications. Or not. Whatevs. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Janice Sawka

COMEDY PLUS TIME EQUALS TRAGEDY

See Smay Run

The Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8), to Sunday

SET to the backdrop of a live sketch-comedy performance, Comedy Plus Time finds Tim and Dana (Winnipeggers Tim Gray and Dana Smith) in the awkward moment when an acting duo becomes more than friends and co-workers. Elapsing over the course of a performance of their hilarious sketch show (which Gray and Smith actually perform), the newly single Dana and the already single Tim realize they are both single at the same time. Hilarity and awkwardness ensue.

Penned by Smith, Comedy Plus Time is a sly show-within-a-show where the sketches take equal footing with the "drama" behind the scenes, from Morley the Teenage Moose to all-occasion rappers-for-hire (they do funerals). Very funny with just the right touch of pathos, Comedy Plus Time equals terrific. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Barb Stewart

THE PB & J SKETCHPROV SHOW

PB & J Comedy

Planetarium Auditorium (Venue 10), to Sunday

AT this particular performance, Toronto's PB & J was PB & F, with Fraz Wiest joining Pat Thornton and (former Winnipegger) Bob Banks in this "sketchprov" sandwich, in place of Jason Derosse. "Sketchprov," according to the program, is "a blend of sketch formats with improvised content," wherein the group asks the audience to fill in the blanks in eight different improv scenarios. A great idea, but it took up less the half of the 50-minute show.

The rest consisted of host Batman (Jon Blair) sharing his poetry and assorted jokes and local standup comic Ben Walker doing a mini-routine. Both were perfectly fine and funny enough, but when one is expecting some semblance of an improv show, it comes as a disappointment to be greeted by straight standup. Let's hope other performances fulfil such a promising concept. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

-- Barb Stewart

YARN

Acky-Made

The Rachel Browne Theatre (Venue 8), to Saturday

A MEANDERING, yet cleverly staged storytelling/musical performance from Torontonian Alex Eddington. In the summer of 2003, a post-university grad crisis found Eddington working as a chambermaid on the Scottish Isle of Mull. Yarn is sort of the story of that summer, told through song, story and puppets, where a lost young man seeks to quiet his inner monologue and find himself. While there are stories to tell, Eddington himself admits there's no big payoff -- no major epiphany that sent him on the road to adulthood. Instead, he drops in threads of various stories, all the while accompanied by a sheep puppet representing the annoying voice inside his head.

Eddington is a sweet, pleasing and musical performer who carries this slight show on his shoulders with the aid of his charm and the unique style of its telling. 'Ö'Ö'Ö 1/2

-- Barb Stewart

BE A MAN

RibbitRePublic Theatre

MTC Up the Alley (Venue 2), to Saturday

Evidently, the members of the four-man Edmonton troupe RibbitRePublic sprinkle testosterone on their cereal, judging from the virile vitality on display in this collection of sketches. It starts with the guys trying to keep a ball in the air while singing a lusty rendition of Stan Rogers' Barrett's Privateers.

Nothing like locker-room musk to establish a multi-faceted view of masculinity.

It's not all grunting troglodytes, although a quick sketch about a car that won't start does fulfil that particular obligation. Be a Man incorporates introspection (a young man recalls accompanying his girlfriend for an abortion), violence (a deconstruction of a street brawl) and rude comedy (the horrors of a medical examination for an STD). Dreading a conversation about masculinity with your teen son? This engaging, briskly paced show might do the trick. 'Ö'Ö'Ö 1/2

-- Randall King

THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING)

Evans Street Productions

Red River College (Venue 11), to Saturday

Quirky and perversely funny, this bleak comedy requires your full attention, as Steinbach's Grant Burr doles out fragments of Thom's life, from a shocking boy-and-his-dog vignette to scraps of a broken love story.

A 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist by Will Eno, the tale is splintered, as if Thom's life is passing before your eyes in a series of rapid-fire montages told out of sequence, and it's packed with morbid pearls of wisdom and food for thought: "What would you do if you had a day to live?" he asks. "What if you had 40 years?"

The staccato format isn't all that engaging, despite some weird audience interaction -- Thom is one tricky dude -- but the wordplay is clever and wickedly fun. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

-- Pat St. Germain

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2013 C6

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