- A 2009 production of 'Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind' at Woolly Mammoth. (Photo: Colin Hovde)
There's a moment in the short play, "About a buck-seven," when the Neo-Futurists get serious about the future of the arts, in a bleak premonition. Just a few weeks after their host theater, Woolly Mammoth, sent out an email urging donations to fill a budget gap left by recent congressional cuts, the five players of this Chicago troupe presented a short vignette about the value of art, and lack thereof of money. Company member Bilal Dardai spoke movingly of having to beg for money to be an artist, while billions of dollars were poured into the war. Speaking of the depreciation of the Iraqi dinar, Dardai said, "When society changes, the art remains art. The money doesn't remain money."
Aside from this glimpse ahead, the Neo-Futurists remain firmly rooted in the present. That's been their goal since the troupe was founded in 1988: to present "non-illusory" theater, in which actors play themselves and there is no suspension of disbelief required of the audience. Dardai warmed the crows up by saying that "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," their collection of 30 plays to be performed in 60 minutes, may not look like a play. "It will probably not look like Clybourne Park," he added.
What follows is a madcap hour of music, physical comedy and short sketches, some of which verge more on the brink of performance art than theater. In "Hold me while I read the news," company member Caitlin Stainken requests a member of the audience to help her do just that – and when she reads something tragic, her volunteer must comfort her. But the blend of social commentary vs. absurdist humor is tipped slightly more towards the latter, with skits like "Get on Your Ass and Lasso," which ropes an audience member into a suggestive dance and "Late Evening Dry Land Dolphin-Based Book Club," in which humans discuss To Kill a Mockingbird and dive through hoops. But because the Neo-Futurists change up the "menu" of the show each night, you might see an entirely different set of plays, determined by a roll of the dice.