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Roald Dahl's Wife-Swap Tale Takes East Village Stage

Aleksey Burago on arranges huge origami piece on the set of 'Billy Bob Boils the Sea'; part of a three-play project.
Aleksey Burago on arranges huge origami piece on the set of 'Billy Bob Boils the Sea'; part of a three-play project.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

EAST VILLAGE — An off-off Broadway production will bring some of beloved childhood author Roald Dahl’s adult-only stories to stage in "House of Curiosities."

The production to open Monday night is part of an three-play project by the Russian Arts Theater and Studio Company that also includes adaptions from a Chinese fairytale improve comedy. "House of Curiosities" uses select stories by the late author, such as the wife-swap quagmire “The Great Switcheroo” to explore themes of forgiveness and judgment.

"No one is protected from temptation," said Aleksey Burago, 57, the play’s Russian-born director who also started the RATS Company in 2004. "Everybody breaks the rules. It is about the necessity to forgive."

"House of Curiosities," which stands alone or can be seen along with the others in the project, pulls from several of the short stories found in Omnibus, a collection of 28 tales Dahl wrote for adults.

While Dahl might be well known for his children's books, his adult stories are provocative, often with a moral lesson, Burago said. "The Great Switcheroo" is one story in the play that details the exploits of a man who lusts after his neighbor's wife, and hatches an elaborate plot to land the woman in bed.

"He finally made it happen, but he is losing," said Burago, of the story's villain. "From his point of view, it ends poorly."

In Burago's mind, this story and the play demonstrate that rules are broken by all, everyone requires forgiveness, and, in turn, all are required to forgive. 

"House of Curiosities" also takes on "Man from the South,” another of Dahl’s short stories. While less of a sexual fantasy than "The Great Switcheroo," this tale deals with the morality and pride as a young man makes an arrogant bet, with a Cadillac at stake.

"Every story has a moral," said Burago, who graduated from Russia's famous Moscow Academy of Theater Arts in 1986. "In a way it is about non-judgment."

Burago hopes the entire project will attract a variety of age groups. While "House of Curiosity" and "The Kind is Dead, Long Live the King" are specifically for adults, "Billy Bob Boils the Sea" is family-friendly fare.

"Children can interact with actors," said Burago. "Billy Bob is so open and pure."

He added that games are played between the actors and audience, and the Chinese fairytale is done before a set of huge origami structures as props.

For Burago, the entire project is an ambitious move conceived out of a desire to do something he had never seen done before. He has personally invested heavily into the $30,000 budget.

"This reason is to do some original work, to speak fresh ideas," said Burago, of the show, which will be a world premiere when "House of Curiosities" opens Monday night.

Over the next four weeks all three plays will be running throughout the week, sometimes on different days. On Saturdays all three plays will run one after the other. 

“We hope to gather a curious audience who wants to see what is going on,” said Burago.

The RATS Company, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is a made up of students or former students Burago has worked with over the years and has exhibited about ten productions over the past eight years. Burago also teaches as numerous acting schools in New York.

The company, according to their website, is committed to artistic theater production and education using "the principles of the Moscow Art Theater and Michael Chekov Technique."

"It is a huge stress doing theater — rent, props, sets, costumes, it is music, it is lights," said Burago. "Everything is an effort. One person cannot do it all."