A LONG PLAY’S JOURNEY INTO ONE ACT, EUGENE O’NEILL UNSCRIPTED, Free Associates, at the Ivanhoe Theater. Eugene O’Neill’s turgid melodramas are ripe for the kind of respectful ridicule the Free Associates have already freely heaped on Tennessee Williams, Charlotte Bronte, and the Bard. Their latest 90-minute improvisation has despair to spare and guilt galore, replicating O’Neill’s glorious bombast and rhapsodic symbolism. But judging from opening night, bleak Eugene may have won out in the end.

Based on audience suggestions, “More Spacely Missions” focused on the tortured, doom-ridden McCready clan circa 1935. Returning from the sea and recovering from the baleful influence of Indian fakirs, the elder son (Matthew Fahey) is obsessed with going to the (misbegotten) moon. But mostly he boozes to oblivion with his barfly buddy (Joe Reilly) or fights over the vacant barmaid (Diana Boos). Consumed by TB and self-pity, the thieving younger son (John Gawlik) is haunted by his father’s suicide. Elaborately miserable, the incestuous, demented mother (Susan Gaspar) fears being saddled with the family’s unpaid grocery bills.

It began riotously, the five actors tearing into the story with highfalutin histrionics. Then the lampoon began to limp. Portentous pauses dropped the energy and–well, it’s hard to outdo O’Neill at his own gloomy game. Unlike most improv artists, the ensemble listened to one another–but did it too well, refusing to pounce on others’ lines even when a scene needed a jump start. Somehow the comedy got beyond the horizon, and the iceman never came. –Lawrence Bommer