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Wackiness on ice: Playwright fills stage with hockey hi-jinks: If you go

The review: Deke Weaver's look at small-town hockey provides one of the best examples of regional humor since "Fargo."

With an alliterative title like "The Crimes & Confessions of Kip Knutzen: A Hockey Way of Knowledge," you have to be expecting a wacky night of hockey humor. After all, this is a show that promises everything from hockey pranks with a dead guy to talking pheasants. But writer-performer Deke Weaver is more ambitious.

Kip Knutzen is the coach of the Devil Lakes Demons. His own career as a hockey player was derailed by his real life, but his teams have won a couple of state titles, and the cornerstone of his life is an abhorrence of showboating, both on and off the ice.

Weaver starts off the evening as Kip Knutzen, but also plays Kip's wife Katie Knutzen in her kampaign--sorry, campaign -- to become toned and fit; and young Thor "Tool" Halvorson, the Demons' captain with his secret power. Weaver easily slips from character to character by removing his cap or turning it around. (The wife ends up being the bald one.)

The opening segment, in which Kip recounts his early days, really puts the audience off kilter because the events he relates are anything but funny. Consequently, for a while the opening night audience at the Play Ground was rather hesitant to laugh, even with a tootsie-rolling prank and the debut of a talking pheasant.

But by the time Thor starts going on about the Halvorson Moose, the audience has a real feel for the major threads of Weaver's developing narrative and becomes comfortable with the emotional spectrum he wants to cover. That is when the laughs start coming as Weaver and his characters head for the big game and its strange aftermath.

So, despite its wonderfully absurd moments this show is not in the spirit of "Slap Shot," and while the old radio-style sound effects will make you think of Garrison Keillor, Weaver's primary muse is clearly Mark Twain, the patron saint of regional humorists. Hence the claim that Weaver is ambitious.

Weaver is aided and abetted by Isaac Bloom and Zoe Schwartz, who assume primary sound-effect duties and play sundry supporting characters. Their best moments are as the teenage Knutzen twins, Heidi and Helga respectively, although they may be switching off. (It's impossible to tell because they're identical, dontcha know.)

What I know is that the third-ranked Lady Bulldogs have a game tonight against an unranked opponent over at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, but what is happening with Kip Knutzen and the gang at the Play Ground is your better bet to see a real laugher.

LAWRANCE BERNABO teaches at Lake Superior College and has spent about 20 minutes of his life on skates on the ice, some of it somewhat upright thanks to the use of a chair.

What: "The Crimes & Confessions of Kip Knutzen: A Hockey Way of Knowledge"

Where: The Play Ground in Duluth's Technology Village

When: 7:30 tonight

Tickets: $10

For information: Call 733-7555

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