Directors Lauren Baumbauer and Christopher Sullivan call “A Series of Unscripted Events,” their latest full-length improvised play running this month at Modjeska Playhouse, “fantastical adventures inspired by and improvised in the style of ‘Lemony Snicket.’”
Or for those not familiar with the gothic absurdist style of children’s book author Daniel Handler, it’s like “Charles Dickens meets Roald Dahl,” Sullivan said.
The Lake Forest company’s “Mainstage Unscripted” program started in 2016 as “Modjeska Classic Movies,” where the performers would improvise a show that was inspired by screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s.
On its heels came “Attack of the Unscripted B-Movies,” “Unscripted Murder Mysteries,” “Shaken Not Stirred” and an annual holiday show, “A Very Merry Unscripted Christmas.”
“We read a lot of books and watched a lot of Netflix to help us create the structure,” said Sullivan, of the immense amount of research and preparation the cast and crew does to be able to masterfully improv a show like “A Series of Unscripted Events.”
“Once we have the structure we get to play,” he said. “It’s like jazz.”
“A Series of Unscripted Events” is one of two shows by smaller Orange County theater companies that are staging new twists on familiar stories.
“Strong Arm,” which opens July at the Grand Central Art Center in downtown Santa Ana’s Artist’s Village, is Wyn Moreno’s contemporary adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
It’s produced by fledgling troupe The Wayward Artist, now in its second season.
Moreno said “Strong Arm” grew out of his acting class at Cal State Fullerton, when he read “The Seagull” and related to a key scene between Treplev, when he was a young child, and his mother Arkadina, an aspiring actress.
“[It’s] a story about a mother living vicariously through her son and the unintended consequences which happen as a result of unhealthy human relationships,” said Craig Tyrl, Wayward Artist’s founding artistic director. “In both plays, the plot is the basically the same, but ‘Strong Arm’ finds its setting in the world of professional baseball.”
Moreno said the idea of a pageant mom, like Rose from the musical “Gypsy,” fascinated him.
“I wanted to turn it into a sports mom,” he said. “The similarities between show business and pro sports are staggering. It’s all a big show, deep at its core. Athletes posture and perform for audiences just as an actor does.”
IF YOU GO
What: “A Series of Unscripted Events”
When: Through June 29
Where: Modjeska Theater, 21084 Bake Parkway, Suite 104, Lake Forest
Information: (949) 445-3674, mphstage.org
What: “Strong Arm”
When: July 12-28
Where: Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway Ave., Santa Ana
Information: 657-205-6273, thewaywardartist.org
Eric Marchese is a contributor to TimesOC.