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JUMP ROPE

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Comedy writers Alex Alexander and Todd Rohrbacher have devised a clever divertissement with this weekly dose of energetic sketch comedy—although, enjoyable as it is, it'd be stretching it a tad to call it a play. In a breakneck three-act round of theatre sports performed on a bare stage, six extremely funny and trusting participants—all bravely willing to enter into this ingenious comedic brainstorm each and every Monday night—begin by telling the audience about their characters' lives as they prepare for a bloodthirsty jump-rope competition.

In a world mercilessly divided between the jumpers and the holders, Myrtle (Jenna Allen), a 10-year-old who never acts like one, has come to the realization that fame and glory in the sport will never be hers. She instead dons the gloves of a holder, determined to become the best in the world. But when bratty star jumper Serena (Grace Nassar) twists her ankle, she decides she'll become the top holder at Myrtle's expense. "I'm the Julia Roberts," she tells her rival. "You're the Martha Plimpton." Alexander and Rohrbacher, who also directs, play the mother of the star jumper and the school principal, respectively—characters prone to disappear for passionate trysts in broom closets with remarkable regularity. Cynthia Szigeti is delightfully caustic as the show's long-suffering narrator, grumbling from the sidelines about her lot in life, "It's hot up here, and I'm going through menopause." As star player Three, the lanky Chris Ackers, who towers above the others like the Space Needle dwarfs Seattle, is hilariously gee-willikers and endearingly self-effacing. "Three's been taking lessons from our president," we're told by Szigeti. "He's deluded and optimistic."

What's most engaging here is that the audience decides what will happen along the way, first by voting to see which character the second phase will focus upon, then deciding which of the five will be killed off. It's Saturday Night Live meets The Survivor, and the possibilities are legion, sending these resiliently elastic performers scrambling to conform to myriad results, which they accomplish with great skill and imagination.

"Jump Rope," presented by Nadau Productions at the National Comedy Theatre, 733 Seward St., Hollywood. Mon. 8 p.m. Sept. 20-Oct. 25. $10. (213) 612-9700.

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