The Cunin Family Chronicles, WNEP Theater. Improv awaits another innovation like the Harold, the veritable “sonata form” ordering of scene, game, and monologue. Tinkering with its recipe generally yields diminishing returns–or a mutant offshoot whose weaknesses overwhelm its strengths. The Cunin Family Chronicles, an improvised one-act, is something of a pre-Harold throwback in its simplicity, fusing a narrated story with a Time Dash (which visits the same relationship at different points) to depict the evolution of a family. This production’s straitjacket specifics inevitably produce an extended game rather than a fleshed-out play: the idea is to drop in on a family at Thanksgiving at five-year intervals between 1970 and 2000. Ground less fertile or more grueling is hard to imagine.

What appears to be a talented ensemble appears also to have skimped on its homework. The show’s scheme of marriage, reproduction, middle age pretty much ensures at least a juvenile character or two every time out. But portraying children ain’t easy–the night I attended, the kids consistently seemed older than their years. And the deep pool of cultural signifiers made available by the time frame went largely untapped, reduced to flags like “the draft” and “grunge”; opportunities to tie them into the family dynamic were largely squandered, most noticeably in the last scene. Only Scot Goodhart consistently shone, his refrain of “sumbitch” seemingly directed as much at the halting scenario as its fictitious particulars.