Charlie & the Fiction Factory: Roald Dahl Unscripted, Free Associates, at the Ivanhoe Theater. The best children’s authors–Shel Silverstein, Edward Gorey, Dr. Seuss–were often off their rockers. Not feverishly insane, mind you, but loopy enough to produce kids’ stories whose depth and charm also captivated adults. Roald Dahl first drew acclaim as a novelist, then turned to writing kids’ books as a way of connecting with his own children–and incidentally with children around the world, given how widely his books are circulated today.
The Free Associates never stray too far from formula in Charlie & the Fiction Factory, conceived and directed by Susan Gaspar. Every show revolves around a lovable moppet, Charlie, who “overcomes unbelievable odds.” But the troupe’s style of structured improvisation proves a particularly good fit with Dahl’s stories: both combine absolute sincerity with absolute irreverence.
On the night I attended, a taskmaster aunt, a cruel dentist with an itchy third eye, and a bumbling postmaster conspired to make Charlie’s life miserable. With the aid of the Willy Wonka-esque proprietor of a magic rutabaga factory (Todd Guill, giving his impression of Gene Wilder as acid casualty), Charlie dispatched them all. Of special note are the children in the cast: a crack performance by Marley Sarmiento (who alternates with Taylor Zitman as Charlie) consistently drew the evening’s biggest laughs. All those decades of collective improv experience onstage, and the kid outclassed everyone. –Nick Green