Entertainment » Theatre

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

by Louise Adams
Thursday Mar 27, 2014
The cast of ’Too Much Light’
The cast of ’Too Much Light’  (Source:Adam Smith)

The Neo-Futurists are in their eleventh week performing "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" in San Francisco. Greg Allen's "30 plays in 60 minutes" format has been continuously performed since opening in December 1988 at Chicago's Stage Left Theater, along with a New York ensemble started in 2003.

At the end of each show, an audience member rolls dice to determine how many existing scripts will be retired and how many new ones will have to be written (and cast, rehearsed and teched) before the next weekend. This premise keeps the talented performer/writer/directors busy, and, to date, the SF ensemble has premiered 111 two-minutes (or less) plays.

Upon arriving, audience members are presented with a program/menu, and coached to shout out their favorite title as numbered from 1 to 30, marked on white papers hung from a clothesline across the intimate, multi-level stage. The nearest player -- the March 22 show featured the tireless talents of Amy Langer, Matt Pine, Megan Cohen, Steven Westdahl and the Windy City's John Pierson -- leaps up to pull down the number as the ensemble (and technician Sam Bertken) scramble to set props, costumes or whatever is required. Somebody yells "go" to start, and "curtain" to end, all under the watchful eye of an hour countdown clock.

The timepiece they use is from a darkroom, and the show's ethos is also refreshingly old-school in such a tech-saturated city. The storytelling runs the gamut from schticky to thought-provoking, presented by hardworking craftspeople playing themselves, deeply connecting with each other as well as with the audience.

Greg Allen’s "30 plays in 60 minutes" format has been continuously performed since opening in December 1988 at Chicago’s Stage Left Theater, along with a New York ensemble started in 2003.

Standout pieces from this evening included the first, #11, the slapstick "Pie Five!" ("shaving cream does work better," said John from the darkness); #22 offered can (vs. bottle) service, and catered a Pabst Blue Ribbon (brewed on March 10) to a man in the front row; and "I Want to Watch You Eat A Peach in Slow Motion," #21, self-explanatory (consuming fresh and canned), set to a slo-mo version of The Presidents of the United States' song "Movin' to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches."

City-specific narratives included "Tell Me Where to Burrito" (#20), which garnered food truck or restaurant recommendations from the patrons, and "If All of Us were San Francisco" (#18), which related the city's race, gender and sexuality stats to the assembled.

Meta-pieces included "Once More With Feeling" (#27), an angst-y version of the previous "I'm Going On the Record Now, Before It's An Issue" (musings on being buried upright, like the terra cotta warriors, or at sea, more "ephemeral, like live performance"); "Solitary Confinement," #8, where an audience member was exiled backstage for the next five plays and told to "think about what he'd done;" #28's "ride on the nonsense bronco" called "Things That Sound Like Hamlet;" and #1, a mini-clothesline story called "Like a Woody Allen Homage to 'Wild Strawberries,' it's 'Too Much Light Too Late, Touch My Baby -- A Story of Ambivalence.'"

Space in the theater is tight, so the entrance queue grows quickly. Get to the theater well before curtain to roll the dice to determine your ticket price ($10 plus roll, or online for a flat $15 plus fees). Chicago-style, see the show early and often, because, as the Neo-Futurists say, "If you've seen the show once, you've seen the show once."

"Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" runs every Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., and is performed by the Neo-Futurists at the Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma St., San Francisco. For more information, visit www.sfneofuturists.com

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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