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PlayDC: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind @ Woolly Mammoth
April 25, 2011 | 9:50AM

The Neo-Futurusts, a popular Chicago theater collective, are back for the 5th time at Wooly Mammoth. They seem to like them over there. They are performing their long running signature event Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, in which they attempt to perform 30 mini plays in 60 minutes. The crowd last Thur seemed to like them too. Uproarious laughter, thunderous applause. At least a third of them cheered when asked if they’d been to a TMLMTBGB show before. So why was I so underwhelmed?

Ok, I know why, but I can’t figure out a way to write this review without coming off like an elitist comedy snob… so I’ll just own it, I’m an elitist comedy snob.  A little more on how the show works: There are 30 numbers printed on pieces of paper hanging from a clothes line on stage. Everyone in the audience is handed a sheet with a number that corresponds to a title of one of the “plays”. The troupe consists of 3 men and 2 women who start an hour long timer and then when they yell “curtain!” you are supposed to shout out a number. One member, usually a taller one, jumps up to grab the sheet, reads the title of the play, and then the group scamper around to setup a chair or table or other prop and have at it. The mini plays are mostly comedies, a handful are political, and often there is interaction with the audience. There is a sense of honesty about everything, they don’t play characters per se, and use their real names. The gimmick seems inventive at first, but the problem is, the order of the plays doesn’t really matter. This isn’t like Upright Citizens Brigade where an audience yells out one word and they improv for an hour. They know all these plays by heart. They’re just performing them in a different order each night. And they’re all so random anyway… who cares?

I like the performers though, they all seem like very nice people. In fact I chatted with the creator Greg Allen before the show, who has been doing this since 1988, and he was a guy I’d like to hang out with. The problem is that this was probably really funny stuff in 1988, but we have the internet now and Adult Swim and stuff. This was just all too chippery, and started grating a bit on my jaded hipster self. Even though they say the f-word a lot and shove ice cream up their vaginas, it came off as trying too hard. It was like edgy-lite.  I was never bored though, and there were a few clever bits, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes when they were all high fiving each other at the end cause they made it with 43 seconds left on the clock. Well, you did write these plays to specifically fit into the 60 min…

What it boils down to is that this is a show for people who are like the “crazy one” in their financial consulting office. It’s for mainstream artsy people. It’s for the people that hang out at The Soundry in Vienna. And you’ll go to this show and it’ll be a smug fest with all these other “weird” but not weird people and you’ll laugh extra loud so everyone knows you got the “obscure” but not obscure reference. And in that sense, it’s a success. And I don’t dislike the people that would like this either. I actually would recommend this to more people that I know than not.

Seriously though, I’m sorry for being so pretentious. Unless you’re as obnoxiously full of yourself as I am, you’ll probably dig this show.

———–

TOO MUCH LIGHT MAKES
THE BABY GO BLIND
(30 PLAYS IN 60 MINUTES)

created by Greg Allen, written, directed & performed by THE NEO-FUTURISTS

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND
WITH A NEW SLATE OF PLAYS AND
NEO CAST MEMBERS!
April 20 – May 1, 2011

Appropriate for ages 14 and up.
Running Time: 70min (no intermission)

Tickets: http://www.woollymammoth.net/

WOOLLY MAMMOTH THEATRE COMPANY
641 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004
Admin: 202-289-2443 • Box Office: 202-393-3939

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  • Bilal says:

    Hi, Cale…this is Bilal from the Neos, just wanted to respond to a small part of your review. No offense taken that you were underwhelmed; we’re aware each time we perform the show that it’s not for everybody…nature of the beast.

    Regarding the ability to get through the show in 60 minutes or less, we DON’T actually ever know if we can do it. We write shorter, but with 30 pieces of varying lengths, rehearsed minimally, and with audience interaction a key element of the chaos, we regularly fail to finish the show. This run at Woolly we’ve managed to assemble menus that have finished on time or just missed the clock by a few seconds; our last run here we would often leave two plays or more hanging behind, and then try to adjust to get the show finished. Part of the reason we shuffle the show each weekend back home is because we discover in performance that the show is longer than 60 minutes, or so short that it no longer seems like a challenge.

    The order can and does affect the character of the show in noticeable ways. If we have several farcical plays occur in a row, we often find the audience still giggling when the next play is a stark and serious monologue…and we find it hard to get the audience to laugh again if several serious plays occur in a row. The mess onstage becomes a factor. If an earlier play seems aggressive to an audience member then we find the audience more reluctant to participate even if a later play celebrates an audience member.

    Thanks for coming, regardless, and for your thoughtful response.

  • cale Cale says:

    Fair points – I’ve only seen the show once, so I should have clarified those were just assumptions on my part. I’m curious though, since the goal is to finish in time, could that theoretically hurt the effectiveness of a particular play that perhaps requires a slower timing? Like do you ever find yourself rushing or speeding up dialogue when a bit would work better at a slower pace?

    BTW – I did crack up at your subtle quivering human rodeo moves – well played sir.

  • Bilal says:

    It very well could, and it becomes the decision of the author and performers, sometimes in the moment, whether or not to speed up or slow down based on the clock or the intent of the piece. We do occasionally ruin a play by going too fast. Alternately, we discover that another play has been going too slowly all along, and the forced pacing shift gave it the timing it needed.