- (30 Plays in 60 Minutes)
- Written, Produced and Directed by the Neo-Futurists
- Presented by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Well. Ten-minute plays, five-minute plays, and now … this. Is it possible that in this brain-ADDled age, thirty plays in sixty minutes could sink through our consciousness, make us laugh, make us think?
Could five gifted actors, seeped in the art of improvisation, bring us to emotional satori, to catharsis and consciousness, with art which averages two minutes in duration?
In a word, no. But Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is a sixty-minute gigglefest, When it succeeds – which it does, spectacularly, about a third of the time – it is lip-smacking good, insight raw and fresh and sometimes unspeakably hilarious. I include in this group of tiny plays What I Assume People Think I Do When I Tell Them I’m a Performance Artist, Put it in your Pantry with your Cup Cakes, Moonlit Theatre Presents: The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing, A Neo-Futurist 12 ½ Question Meta-Survey, Low Stakes/High Drama, This is Not About Yentl But Now’s A Good Time As Any for the Broadway Remount and in particular Ryan Walters: Bad Ass Bike Messenger. I tell you this because your mission, should you decide to show up at Woolly Mammoth and accept it, will be to instruct the Neo-Futurists as to which play to put on, and these are the best ones I saw Friday night.
Among the rest, several are amusing, though a few – Why This Why, for example -were incomprehensible to me, and one or two (For a Nation in Mourning: Never Never Never EVER Lose Hope) were – excuse me – hopelessly archaic.
The real question is why more of these tiny playlings weren’t archaic. The Neo-Futurists, after all, is a twenty-year old troupe from Chicago, the town where Del Close first discovered that good theater could come from improvisation. The danger that such durability presents to an improvisational comedy group is that its work might become stale, as Saturday Night Live has become stale. But the Neo-Futurists work hard to keep the work fresh, relentlessly discarding plays and replacing them with new ones, some of them written on the day of the show.
Here’s how it goes: the stage is bare except for pages with the numbers 1 through 30 written on them, strung from one end to the other on a rope like laundry. Your personal scorecard – handed out with the program – links each number to a play title. The amiable artists – Greg Allen, Jessica Anne, John Pierson, Kristie Koehler Vuocolo and the aforementioned Walters – saunter out and explain the rules. If the show has sold out, they order some pizza, which you can munch on afterward. Somebody sets a formidable alarm clock to ring at sixty minutes. And then: you scream like crazy for your favorite number, and the Neo-Futurists just might haul it down and do the play connected to it.
The selection of plays I saw Friday night emphasized the work of Walters, a wiry guy with a disturbing maniacal glint in his eyes. His bad-ass bike messenger stint – unquestionably the prime piece of the evening – is a startling meditation on empowerment and illusion, done at 103 mph. But the other artists did terrific work as well, particularly Vuocolo, whose Not About Yentl piece managed to be both touching and ridiculous. The athletic Pierson and baby-voiced Anne also had their high points. Neo-Futurist Founding Director Allen seemed to be suffering from laryngitis and appeared in fewer plays than the others, but his performance in the Apollo 11 piece – well, it beggars description.
In fact, all of these pieces beggar description – not just because to describe them is to ruin them, but because they may not be on the menu by the time you see the show. At the end of each evening, an audience member rolls a die, and the number which comes up is the number of new plays the troupe must write and put into the lineup.
We seldom get to see actors work. Of course, they work on stage all the time, but we seldom get to see it. Ed Gero must have worked hard to get the climactic monologue in Shining City, but we didn’t see it – instead, the speech seemed like the character’s spontaneous and authentic utterance. The actors here are working before our eyes. They are scrambling, sweating, shouting out instructions to each other. It is good, once in a while, to be reminded how hard the matter is.
- Running Time: 1:10
- When: Through Jan 13. Wednesdays through Fridays are at 8 p.m.; Saturdays are at 7 and 9 p.m., and Sundays are at 2 p.m.
- Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW (7th and D), Washington, DC
- Tickets: $25, at 202.393.3939 or on the website.