Un-Scripted Theater's Improvised Dickens Musical Is Hard Times Indeed

Here's a testament to the make-it-up-as-it-goes ethos of improv. If a show isn't going anywhere, really, the cast might have it in themselves to fix it as they go.

Such a phenomenon occurred last weekend at a performance of Un-Scripted Theater's A Tale of Two Genres, and ambitious — perhaps too much so — improvised cross-genre Charles Dickens musical. The show is pitched as a mash-up: The urchins-and-mustaches London of Dickens meets some story genre the audience chooses — say “a Tarantino heist,” the Un-Scripted website suggests. That combination then meets on-the-spot musical theater, with the resulting show meant to be a full coherent narrative rather than a successions of gags, allusions, and the usual improv dada.

There's no need for improvised Dickens be so complicated, of course. Up through, say, Dombey & Son, all of Dickens was improvised, a carnival of caricatures and melodrama, of comic flights and weepy sentiment and social outrage doled out in weekly or monthly parcels with little regard for the broader narrative shape. When the sales flagged on Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens chucked his vague plan and sent the novel's hero to America — an in-the-moment inspiration that goes on for a couple of hundred pages.

This inventive brio was utterly lacking in the first half Saturday's Un-Scripted performance.

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