I saw another great show last night. This was my first fully-scripted show in Chicago, called "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes."
Before I get into the actual review, I'll just say: yes, the Neo-Futurists have some traditional 'gimmicks' that occur every night before and after the show. They're hilarious (and like most of the show, irreverent to the point of irrelevance) but I don't want to ruin them for you. If you're seriously interested, you can look them up for yourself.
Oh yeah (digressions! sorry) - if you're unfamiliar with this show, here's how it works: 30 pieces of numbered paper hang from a clothesline above the stage. Each piece of paper represents a different play. The Neo-Futurists have 60 minutes to perform these plays. On top of that, they have no choice what play comes next; it's the audience's job to pick plays by shouting out numbers.
There are plenty of words one could use to describe the Neo-Futurists - absurd, weird, funny, political - but I think the most fitting one is honest. Everything that you see in Too Much Light is based on the concept of honesty. None of the actors are playing characters - they're just playing exaggerated version of themselves. That monologue about losing his job that guy just delivered? That story about a guy being confronted on a plane for wearing a vulgar shirt? Those things actually happened. True, fiction can inspire the mind to drift toward situations and viewpoints it has never encountered, but the incredibly powerful, non-fictional honesty presented in Too Much Light could make even the most ardent fourth wall supporter wonder: why don't we try stuff like this more often?
This honesty manifests itself in other places in the show, too. Take the show's scene changes. In "regular" theatre, scene changes usually take place under the quiet cover of a blackout or curtain.
Not so in Too Much Light. All scene changes that occur happen right before your eyes - and ears.
This is what a scene change sounds like. Imagine actors running around frantically on a stage as they all shout things like this:
"Okay, we need two chairs stage right!"
"Chris, grab the chairs!"
"Where's the podium?"
"I've got the podium!"
"Are we all set?"
[LIGHTS TURN BACK ON]
"Dan's still naked!"
"...let's do a different scene then."
(Note: this dialogue is semi-fictional, but those last two lines were actually uttered at one point.)
I realize that my description of this might make the performers sound kind of amateurish - but they aren't. It's no different from the chaos that happens in any fast paced, quickly assembled production. The only thing that sets it apart from your average set change is that the actors/tech guy are actually showing you the set change and saying their thoughts rather than hiding from the audience.
The second most important concept of the show is its sense of immediacy. Everything that happens before you is not occurring in the past or future - it's all happening in the present. (On a semi-related note, four words are echoing through my head as I write this: "This is now time!") The unpredictability of the show and the audience participation parts of the show certainly make it damn near impossible for a show to repeat itself, but the Neo-Futurists add in an extra step to make things more difficult. Every Friday and Sunday, a dice is rolled at the end of the show. Whatever Sunday's total ends up being signifies the number of new plays the group must write for their next set of performances. So though Too Much Light is scripted, it's truly impossible to attend this show and see the same thing twice.
Which is why, I think, I'm having some difficulty writing this review. It's a little like trying to tell someone about this awesome time you and your friends had driving around this one night a couple of summers ago. Regardless of how well you tell the story, it always ends the same way - "You had to be there."
The same thing applies to Too Much Light. I'm sorry, but no matter how well I write my account of the show, you'll have no idea what exactly it was like.
But I'm not going to take the easy route. I'm not going to say "You had to be there." So instead of a concession, I'll offer a command: You have to be there. If you want some quality cheap entertainment, you must attend this show. If you would like to see organized chaos at its best, you must attend this show. If you would like to see the boundaries of theatre and self-expression pushed, you must attend this show.
If you are a non-theatre person: you will have an awesome time and see something unforgettable.
If you are a theatre person: not only will you have an awesome time/see something unforgettable, but your mind will be blown. If you've ever been involved in any stage production, you will have no choice but to leave the Neo-Futurist Theater wondering how you too could help to push theatre in exciting, innovative directions.