21-Year old show is still as fresh as ever
|Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind|
|at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
Open Run (more info)
reviewed by Keith Ecker
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is more than just a series of 30 plays in 60 minutes. It’s also more than Chicago’s longest running production, celebrating its 21st anniversary in late 2009. Too Much Light is a complete and utter oddity.
What other show can consistently sell out every performance to an audience that would properly be characterized as non-theatergoing? At the performance I saw, there were a motley assortment of college students, teenagers and sweatpants-clad parents. It looked a lot more like the type of crowd you’d see lining up for the most recent Hollywood blockbuster than a trip down a surrealist, dada rabbit hole.
But the throngs of people do come, and what they witness is one of the most out there and experimental shows in the city. And what’s even more remarkable is that they thoroughly enjoy it.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that the show is much more than a show. It is an ideology as well. Neo-Futurism is a contemporary style modeled after the Italian Futurists. These Futurists worked in all sorts of media from painting to music to theatre. In the same vein as Dadaism, Futurism sought to be the anti-art, casting off the shackles of the past to welcome a new aesthetic that looked toward the future, taking influences from technology and industry.
Although Neo-Futurism doesn’t seem to take itself as seriously as some of its Italian forbearers, it still retains its absurdist bent and deeply personal expression. In fact, a tenant of Too Much Light is that everything the audience witnesses is real. Every actor plays himself and only himself and all scenes are set in the very theater on the very stage where the actors are performing.
The show is chockfull of gimmicks, many of which are interactive, which gives it its high energy and spontaneity. To enter the theater, each audience member must roll a die. Add nine to the die roll, and that’s what you pay. As you enter, you’re asked your name by a performer who completely ignores your answer and scribbles a random word on a nametag, which you must wear throughout the duration of the show. (My name was “inning.”)
A clothesline hangs from the ceiling above the stage. Hanging from the line are 30 sheets of paper, each labeled with a number. Audience members are handed a “menu” of plays, each written by and to be performed by the cast. The audience is instructed to shout out a number at the end of a scene. Whatever number is heard first is the next play that is performed. A timer on the wall ticks away for an hour. The goal is to complete all 30 pieces before the alarm sounds.
Each week some old sketches are slotted out and new plays are written. After about a month, all old scenes have cycled out of the menu and a completely new show is staged.
There is a lot of expectation for Too Much Light to be a comedy. And at times it does deliver the funny. For example, one play titled “Curtains: The NeoFuturist Mascot” featured a competition to pick a mascot for the show. A boy from the audience was chosen and so the performers dressed him up with a cape, a fuzzy tail and a cardboard box decorated like a cow’s head.
Yet, this is not iO or Second City. The aim of the Neo-Futurists isn’t to showcase a series of knee-slapping sketches. It’s pure artistic expression, a sort of mental and emotional purging for the performers that, quite often, resonates in some way with the audience. Whether this resonance is characterized by laughter or a somber silence depends on the scene. But there are typically plenty of both in a Too Much Light….. show.
And maybe that’s the appeal. Where else in Chicago can you see a crazy whirlwind of a show that makes you laugh, think, reflect and, at times, get all misty eyed? It’s a rollercoaster experience, and hopefully this ride will keep rumbling for years to come.
All shows will be performed at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland @ Foster. Click here for directions and a map. Tickets are $9 + the roll of a single six-sided die ($10 – $15, depending on your luck!)
Friday nights at 11:30pm (doors open at 11:00), Saturday nights at 11:30pm (doors open at 11:00), Sunday nights at 7:00pm (doors open at 6:30), 50 weeks a year! (We take off the very last two weekends of December each year.)
No reservations are accepted. Heard about the big line that forms to get into TML, click here for Tips and FAQs on how to get into the show. Wanna volunteer for TML (and see the show for free)? Click here.