CIRCUS MUSIC, at the Playground. This manic three-person tour de force is fueled by the actors’ complete (but not always justified) self-confidence and the contagious goofiness of Ben Winters’s zany script. Succeeding more often than it flops, the show contrasts nine cartoony characters, most of them drawn distinctly enough to overcome any stereotypes they might suggest.

Most laughable is Josh DuBose, a comic natural. He strikes gold as a demented shrink who spreads rather than cures insanity, a thuggish substitute teacher who terrorizes third-graders, and–best of all–a peckerwood victim of alien abductions. Janis Kennedy pushes the silly stuff for all it’s worth as a woman who’s been struck by lightning 432 times, a motivational speaker and therapist who can turn people’s ordinary troubles into real hardship, and a lovelorn lady who moves from bestiality to the classifieds with no success. And Kevin Hastie shares the fun as a British infomercial huckster, a former Bolivian dictator now toiling at a Chicken Hut in Skokie, and a very unlucky entrepreneur who regales us with a litany of near misses.

Unfortunately this 75-minute concoction–a promising gallery of vivid to surreal caricatures also directed by Winters–carries at least 15 minutes of energy-draining deadwood and DOA jokes. Playwright Winters may hate to cut, but director Winters should have hauled out the scissors.

–Lawrence Bommer