Replacing the twenty-eight-year long-running hit show "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind", which was known for delivering thirty original plays in sixty minutes with an ever-changing cast, is a new troupe of high energy players each with their own personal gifts and comedic skills. In the same tradition, Neo Futurium now presents The Infinite Wrench.
Greg Allen, the original founder of the name and style of such theater decided to revoke the use of the name and concept a few years after he left the troupe in 2011. The last performance of “Too Much Light” came on December 31st, 2016. The show, as most know, was a longtime late-night fixture in Chicago. All I know is that two of my best buddies in college spent four years with me honing exactly these type of skills, improvising and then writing/performing - John C Reilly and Phil Ridarelli. While John went off to make films fairly quickly after school, Phil worked hard for years with the original Neo Futurist members to turn "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" into the thoughtful, yet funny and exciting theater experience it was. “Too Much Light” went on to become the longest running theatre- production in Chicago’s history and became an iconic piece of our pop culture. Though the new show could very well be just as unique and exciting (and I do look forward to seeing what it will develop into), I’ll certainly miss Phil and some of those older members.
That said, the new troupe has an energy all their own. The topics of the plays were more political in nature, which I liked. For example, one consisted of an actor writing DECENCY at one end of a thirty-foot-long chalkboard then drawing a LONG line to the words CHILD RAPE, finally drawing a line below the word CHILD RAPE that points to the word BREITBART, comparing the publication to that dark side of the spectrum, which was quite funny.
The Infinite Wrench creates a team atmosphere, each guest receiving a name tag with a color upon walking into the theatre. Teams are decided by the color designated and get to decide the next play by yelling out their color when the actors say “Next” at the end of their sketch. Five stations each of different colors (red, blue, green, pink, and yellow) hold five plays that are randomly selected by the actor after running towards the color the actors hear first. But the overall goal is to complete thirty plays in sixty minutes, a timer set just after the actors explain the rules to the audience.
Each play varies in content and could come in the form of monologues, musical numbers and/or group sketches, some being silly-funny (First Man on the Moon) while some poignant and some perhaps a bit nonsensical. The audience is warned by the actors that all plays, inspired by something they have experienced, might not be as funny when acted out as they may have been while writing them. If such is the case, the play is scrapped and a new one reworked into the next show though new plays are worked in weekly regardless. Each play introduced into the show is written by one of the performing actors.
The Infinite Wrench has big shoes to fill in replacing such a popular Chicago theatre pastime that has actually created its own cult-like following. After watching the show in its opening weekend and seeing the highly-animated actors go to work and the material that was so well presented, but especially noting the positive crowd reaction, I am quite sure the Neo-Futurist tradition will carry on, seamlessly.
I LOVE the way the actors involve the audience throughout the entire show. I have been asked onstage to play the piano, I have shouted out the word PINK at inappropriate moments to huge laughs. The Neo-Futurists offer a very special and freewheeling, uniquely Chicagoan, way of viewing theater.
There are often performer antics taking place in the lobby before and after the show, and are low-priced snacks at the end of the Hall of Presidents entryway enroute to the theatre itself.
Should this new, and very talented, cast keep the heart in what they’re doing, as did The Neo-Futurists in the past, The Infinite Wrench will continue to run for another twenty-eight years. The creative production team and actors include Kurt Chiang, Trevor Dawkins, Nick Hart, Jeewon Kim, Kirsten Riiber, Malic White, Ida Cuttler, Tif Harrison, Dan Kerr-Hobert, Lily Mooney and Leah Urzendowski Courser.
Where does the name come from?
As mentioned on the Neo-Futurists home page for the show - The title of our show The Infinite Wrench is partly inspired by text from Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” (1914). Loy was briefly associated with the original Italian Futurists, and wrote her manifesto in response to some of the group’s establishing principles.
If you are disabled or have a hard time walking, please note the theatre is not wheelchair accessible and that climbing a flight of stairs is necessary to enter the theatre. However, they do honor accessibility requests and offer to assist the best they can. To find out more about making an accessibility request, click here.
The price is right and even paying to get in is part of the fun. Tickets are just $9 plus a role of the dice that add an extra $2-$12. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. For more show information, click here.
For those of you who are not aware, there is a great youth program taking place where a group of educators have created an alternative education source for CPS students. Enter Barrel of Monkeys. Barrel of Monkeys (BOM) is a combined group of actors, teachers and musicians that have developed a new, and fun, way for students to enhance their creative writing skills while building their self-esteem and open doors for them to express themselves. Mainly working with third through fifth graders, BOM focuses on working with underserved schools on Chicago’s South and West sides and the result has been a huge success.
Taking stories from students, this talented ensemble translates, then performs these ideas (often word for word, which can be amazingly hilarious) on stage, currently at the Neo-Futurist Theater in Andersonville. In what always turns into series of absurdly funny sketches, BOM’s performers act out each story, promptly giving credit to the student author before they begin.
Barrel of Monkeys now continues into the summer with their That’s Weird, Grandma series, a run that changes its overall theme throughout the year, the latest being That’s Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back. Again, with all material written by Chicago Public School students, you can just imagine how it translates when acted out by a professional theatre ensemble. Needless to say, the laughs are plentiful from beginning to end.
In Summer Strikes Back directed by Artistic Director Joseph Schupbach BOM performs seventeen sketches in their hour-plus performance, some converted into songs while others acted out just as they were written. Stories range in creativity and are each amusing in their own way. Though some stories may be as simple as a conversation between a bunny and an EXIT sign or “Taylor the Rose” where a rose reads off a list on what not to do to her – like pick her because she will die, BOM is able to find the humor in each while at the same time brilliantly promoting the imagination and expression of its young student writers. With titles such as “The Day A Monkey Slapped My Cousin”, “Jake’s Very Bad Day”, “Walking Meatball and Mozzarella Cheese” and “Lady Spy”, you can only imagine the fun that awaits.
While getting the chance to enjoy a very humorous evening of one hilarious sketch after another, one is also supporting a fantastic program – a program that has helped students to write over 5,500 stories within the school year. An amazing outfit, Barrel of Monkeys has been pivotal in reaching out to students, 77% of teachers reporting a positive change in enthusiasm for language arts among their lowest performing students over the course of their residency.
That's Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back is a fun show that, though is mostly a laugh factory, can also reveal moving moments and profound insights of the student writers. With talented cast and musical members (I’ll just name them all since they all made terrific contributions) Nancy Casas, Kassi Bleifuss, Nick Hart, Krista Mickelson, Elizabeth Levy, Laura McKenzie, Spencer Meeks, Deanna Myers, Gwen Tulin, Dixie Belinda Uffelman, Rawson Vint and Joseph Schupbach himself, we get a uniquely well-rounded show that moves quickly and grabs you in from the moment the audience is directed into the seating area by an air traffic controller. This is also a show that can be seen more than once as audience members vote on their favorite sketches afterwards via secret ballot and new sketches are introduced into the following performance as others are removed.
A show for all ages (bring the kids!), Barrel of Monkeys: The Summer Strikes Back is being performed each Monday at 8 pm at Neo-Futurist Theater through August 15th. Tickets are beyond reasonable at just $12 for adults and $6 for children under twelve.
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