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Yip, yap and yawn.

Sharp barks punctuate "Rich Dogs," an original work that premiered over the weekend at Minneapolis' Jungle Theater. The show is premised on the idea that dogs have taken over the world and humans are just their put-upon, repressed servants.

It's a neat conceit pregnant with witty inversions and breezy jocularity. The production includes references to pooches licking faces and sniffing where they shouldn't, plus ideas relating to sleep, or the lack thereof, in a world ordered by canines.

Unfortunately, "Dogs" is all bark, no bite.

It's ponderous and plodding, showing a sharp mismatch between the glib, engaging story it wants to tell and its tone, which veers between a romantic comedy and witless drama.

That's too bad. "Dogs" takes place in the unusual setting of the Jungle's lobby as two dog butlers wait for their canine overlords who are watching a show within the show. The locale offers novelty even as it sometimes helps to dissipate focus.

If there's immediacy, it's kind of Pavlovian, thanks to sound designer Dan Dukich. He has created an audio track that includes an overlay of different types of barks to make the inverted world where humans are yanked around by aural cues, immediate for us.

"Dogs" was created over six months this spring and summer from improvisations by Jay Eisenberg and Shelby Richardson, principals of the multimedia company WeAreMarried, alongside actor Chelsie Newhard. Eisenberg and Richardson star in the production and Richardson is credited with direction.

It's clear that that original committee work needs more refinement, like a unified directorial or dramaturgical vision. Like squirrels in a bag, the show sometimes pulls in different tonal directions simultaneously.

Eisenberg and Newhard are competent and capable performers who pour heart and soul into their characters. But their acting styles show the unresolved tension of the tonal approach. We, as audience members, are sometimes not sure what we're seeing or how we are supposed to react. Some of the lines that are genuinely funny, for example, do not land at all. And when others do, we wonder, is it OK to laugh?

"Dogs" does have striking individual elements. The humans are the ones with dog cones (Alex Pears designed the show's puppets while Bee Begley did the blue-and-yellow-themed costumes).

The story that unfolds includes the two butlers falling in love. There's a sweet original musical number, where Dukich, on acoustic guitar, accompanies Eisenberg and Newhard.

In a director's note, Richardson writes that the catalytic idea for the story came from a Chekhov one-act called "The Proposal." The team hopes this show, which it calls a "howl," will make us recall our own animal instincts.

That's a lot of ambition riding on a small show that comes after a long list of works, from Aesop's fables to "Animal Farm" and Eugène Ionesco's "Rhinoceros," where animals act as messengers to or stand-ins for people. I was hoping that this new work would join that roster.

Unfortunately, "Dogs" does not hunt. And when it ended, it had us wondering if it was indeed over.

'Rich Dogs'
Where: Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
When: Through Oct. 8.
Tickets: Limited. $15-$90. Pay-as-you-are. 612-822-7063 or
Protocol: Masks required for Wednesday evening performances.