DIRECTOR IN DISTRESS: Director Alex Limpaecher (on the ground) faces the wrath of his Theatre Intime cast members in “No Tech! No Tech!” one of the 30 two-minute plays from "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," originally created by Greg Allen and the Chicago Neo-Futurists and playing for one more weekend, October 20-22, at Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus.
Theatre Intime Features 30 Neo-Futurist Plays in 60 Minutes, in a Smorgasbord of Spontaneous, Serious and Absurd Theatrics
When you roll the dice to determine your ticket price, receive a “Hello my name is...” name tag with a very different name on it from the one you gave to the iPod-wearing host in dark glasses, can’t tell who’s an actor and who’s an audience member, find that your program is a “menu” containing 30 items to take place in whatever order the audience decides then you might suspect you’re in for an unusual theater adventure.
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (30 Plays in 60 Minutes), currently running in a Theatre Intime production at Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus, is a post-modern extravaganza. Originally created by Greg Allen and the Chicago Neo-Futurists in 1988, Too Much Light ranges from serious social commentary to the irreverent and irrelevant. It won’t tax your attention span. The 30 plays speed by, ranging in duration from less than a minute to no more than four or five minutes each.
High energy and remarkable versatility characterize the cast of thirteen plus two emcees. The atmosphere is boisterous, with constant participation from the audience, and the production creates a world of honesty, spontaneity, and surprise with its hodgepodge of material some highbrow, some lowbrow, some bitingly caustic, some shapeless or utterly ridiculous.
The evening has the feel of a Rocky Horror Picture Show or the British music hall theater, where the enthusiastic audience and the actors participate together to entertain themselves. The animated emcees (Ashley Alexander and Tyler Crosby) stand on either side of the stage under a clothesline attached to which are pieces of paper numbered one to thirty. Before each scene the audience shouts out its requests for the number to be performed next, and the sequence of events is determined by audience demand. No telling what might happen on any given night, but there’s plenty of bawdy adult humor here, as well as some potentially offensive language and brief nudity (it could even be you, if you’re brave enough to volunteer!).
Many sources of inspiration are detectable in this eclectic evening. On their website (neofuturists.org), the Chicago Neo-Futurists write: “From our namesakes, the Italian Futurists, came the exultation of speed, brevity, compression, dynamism, and the explosion of preconceived notions. From Dada and Surrealism came the joy of randomness and the thrill of the unconscious. From the theatrical experiments of the 1960s came audience interaction, breaking down all notions of distance, character, setting and illusion. From the political turmoil of the 1980s came a socially conscious voice and a low-tech, ‘poor theater’ format.”
The highlights of the experience? It all depends on what you’re looking for. In a solemn, serious vein only three or four of the thirty scenes (The tone of the rest of the evening does not always lend itself to smooth transitions.), “Moving Targets,” a chilling testimony by a rape victim, stands out. The dramatic image is unforgettable here as a target is drawn on one young woman’s back, downstage center, while another woman describes an aftermath as devastating as the act itself: “Sharing my experience was like being raped all over again.”
If it’s biting and timely social satire you’re looking for, “Remember the Maine,” performed by four actors holding up an American flag, deftly skewers the jingoistic rationales our country drums up for going to war. Bellicose leaders always seem to be looking for the “Wow” factor to help rally support and to “keep those atrocities coming.” Equally pointed on the domestic scene is the “Raggedy Ann and Mary Cait Show!” in which Mary’s increasingly hostile and vociferous Raggedy Ann doll becomes a mouthpiece for a particularly bigoted and brutal interpretation of “family values.”
Gentler in their lampoons, in the David Ives (<i>All in the Timing</i>) mode of witty word play and comically revealing social interaction, are the short and sweet “Independent/Codependent;” the extremely clever and skillfully performed “Choice of Vegetable,” in which guests at a restaurant place their orders for the particular personality type and life style they desire; “Dueling Bigots,” in which two characters exchange insults on large flashcards all to the tune of Dueling Banjos; “Title” and “Stretch it Into Overtime,” both of which take penetrating looks at male-female relationships, the latter in the manner of a football game with a referee constantly calling fouls against the two antagonists.
If parody is your preference, there’s a raucous burlesque of action movies, “At Home Big-Budget Action Flick Kit,” complete with car chase, hot romance, dastardly villain, and Kermit the Frog; for the literati, a short amusing spoof of Ernest Hemingway, “Hemingway Afternoon;” and “Danger Can! (The Musical),” complete with chorus line, soda can, and toilet paper a hilarious send-up of over-produced, melodramatic musicals.
If your tastes run to the utterly absurd, bordering at times perhaps on raunchy and tasteless, you will certainly enjoy “Bright Region of the Heavens,” in which the moon is represented by ... you guessed it; or “I Remember the Leg,” a Monty Pythonesque, somewhat grim tale of a rather energetic and violent leg; and “Boil That Dustspeck,” a fully dramatized exhortation for women to stop shaving their underarms and legs in order to “stop the genocide of hair.”
And for all you wannabe performers, the opportunities here are plentiful, including “Understudy,” where you can go up on stage with six other members of the audience, and you get a colorful prop weapon and some actual lines and stage directions; or “Do What you Will,” where you have two and one-half minutes to just hang out with cast and audience; or “Watch Me Watch You,” where the interactions take place in the dark; or, perhaps most memorable of all (I don’t want to give too much away here, but beware!), “Manifest Destiny,” in which four volunteers from the audience, one at a time, come on stage and are offered a dollar apiece to fulfill simple requests.
The resourceful, flexible and engaging undergraduate ensemble features (as listed in the program, “in no order whatsoever”) Georgie Sherrington, Jazmine Da Costa, Roger Q. Mason, Kassi Jackson, Ashley Johnson, Rebecca Gold, Jonathan Miller, Kent Kuran, Andy Hoover, Molly Jamieson, Mary Cait Walthall, Whitney Mosery and Jon Ryan. Sophomore Erik Limpaecher directed the evening’s festivities, and Will Ellerbe handled the functional, straightforward lighting design.
If you’re a fan of the wit, whimsy and sheer outrageousness of Theater of the Absurd, of Monty Python or of David Ives (All in the Timing) you’ll find yourself, frequently, in familiar and happy territory here. If you’re a traditionalist, looking for a well-made play, uncomfortable with randomness, the inexplicable, the arbitrary, the occasionally chaotic, not keen on interacting with performers who want to break down the barriers between actor and audience, then perhaps Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and the Neo-Futurists are not for you. (Ditto for those of you who need to know the significance of titles.)
Theatre Intime’s Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, created by Greg Allen, runs for just one more weekend, Thursday and Friday, October 20-21 at 8 pm and at 2 pm and 8 pm on Saturday, October 22, at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus. For tickets call (609) 258-1742 or order online at www.princeton.edu/utickets. Visit www.theatreintime.org for further information.