Little House Quite Contrary: Laura Ingalls Wilder Unscripted
Free Associates Theatre Company, at the Royal George Theatre Center

Relying on the children’s books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the long-running TV series they inspired, the Free Associates play the plain pioneer folk of Walnut Grove in improvised episodes based on audience suggestions. Todd Guill conceived the show and directs it.

In the episode I saw, Matt Engle did a great job capturing Michael Landon’s broad grin as confident Pa Ingalls while Liz Cloud was genuinely funny as flustered schoolteacher Miss Beadle and Patrick Zielinski found good material in gruff but straightforward neighborly wisdom. But Diana Boos, who wore a permanent pout as “prairie urchin” Laura, was uninspiring, merely following the other actors’ leads. It was Susan Gaspar who propelled the show as Laura’s older sister—even Nellie Oleson (the smug Adrienne Smith) played a more pivotal role than the books’ protagonist.

Overall this ensemble was too willing to wait for someone else to move the action forward. And at times it seemed the performers were deliberately avoiding opportunities to tie the scenes together (perhaps for fear of ending this hour-long show too soon), choosing instead to struggle with only mildly interesting filler. Revisiting the “tell it like it is” Ingalls family and their good-natured neighbors makes for some quaint humor and bizarre scenes, but unless these performers take more chances, the show will remain dull.