CHANCING AT LUNACY: THE COMPLETELY IMPROVISED IRISH COUNTRY PLAY, Free Associates, at the Ivanhoe Theater. These brilliant improv chameleons–they’ve spoofed Shakespeare, Mamet, Tennessee Williams, and the Brontes–are changing colors once again. Improvising on a theme of green, they’re crediting their audience’s sophistication, or at least curiosity, by singling out the dramas of Brian Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa, Molly Sweeney, Faith Healer) for a cunning send-up.
Friel’s intensely messy families are ripe for parody: mired in denial, their own faded gentility, and a distintively Celtic funk, they bitterly await redemption; drained by Ireland’s soul-sucking past, they’re prone to emotional exhaustion or pigheaded optimism. Happiness is not in the script. As the Free Associates freely admit, these cursed clans recall Williams’s Dixie dreamers, and Chancing at Lunacy, like the troupe’s Cast on a Hot Tin Roof, embraces the author’s quirky characters with contagious ardor. Solid caricatures and impeccable accents anchor what turns out to be inspired improvisation.
Crushed into a claustrophobic cottage are a demented matriarch (Mary McHale) who longs to ride a rocket out of County Donegal; her idiot grandson (John McCorry), who was too proud to ask where New York was, so he lived in Philadelphia; his beleaguered mother (Adrienne Smith), stigmatized by her literacy; a prodigal local lad (John Gawlik) who’s just returned from Albania; and a simpering colleen (Joanne Cloonan) who loves the wrong lad. No blustering blarney, the Free Associates’ treatment was poetic, passionate, and delightfully daffy–a true Friel-good show.