Theatre

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

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Redletter is the latest creation by the Neo-Futurists, this piece written by ensemble member Lisa Buscani and directed by Jen Ellison.  As Buscani puts it, “Everyone’s bemoaning about the ‘death of news’. But the news will never die, not as long as humans do newsworthy things.” That’s true…to a point as we see in Redletter when a news team covers a burrito.

Redletter hits on many media related issues such as how the rise of technology has affected the way news is delivered over the years, the mistakes in reporting and transferring the news along with the corrections that go unnoticed (if corrections are even made), the silly stories that have now become news, story oversaturation and the manipulation of media - it’s cause and effect. What you get in Redletter are samples of each while each issue is worthy of its own story and then some. As a viewer I felt a bit teased by the multiple issues brought to the table rather than watching a story that solely focuses on any of the above mentioned subjects. It’s mentioned at one point that a reporter is asked to make up the news leaving hope that corporate and government media manipulation would be addressed in depth, but instead the story jumps back to another questionable form of news delivery. Still, it’s nice to see attention paid to these unethical media practices that go unnoticed by many due to laziness, ignorance, complacency or simply the belief that our trusted news carriers would never purposely dupe the public. Kudos to Buscani for taking the initiative to tackle such a brave subject.

In true Neo-Futurist fashion we get a nice blend of witty humor and subject matter that we can take home and think about afterwards. Buscani is joined by ensemble members Bilal Dardai, Trevor Dawkins, Lindsay Muscato and Thea Lux who together combine for a very amusing cast, each contributing their own unique comic talent to collectively create a smart amalgam of absurd fun. Projections are plenty used in adding oomph to the show’s story including a comical montage of 1970s Robert Redford who Buscani sees as a real media man.

Trevor Dawkins steals much of the show with his genius transformation into his dad, an overly exaggerated portrayal of a hard-nosed CBS news man from the early 1980s who can be found partying at night in the clubs living it up with cocaine and Jack Daniels, but can also just as easily be found at his own “pity party”. Dawkins performance is as energetic as it is hilarious receiving one belly laugh after another from the crowd and in itself is a good enough reason the see Redletter: The News Done Medium Well.  

The bottom line is this play has plenty of funny moments, and though Redletter might be trying to cram in too many issues at once with news and media, it does raise awareness to this important subject and makes us question what we deem as “news” and question the trust that we so often blindly put in the hands of “professional broadcasters and writers”.  

Redletter is playing at The Neo-Futurarium through March 28th Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and tickets are very reasonable at just $20 ($10 for students and seniors). For tickets and/or more information visit www.neofuturists.org or call (773) 275-5255. 

*Photo - Trevor Dawkins

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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