A&E » Theater Review

Blinded by the light


The Chicago comedy troupe the Neo-Futurists take a few things seriously. Their exhilarating evening of short plays and sketches Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, now playing at Dad's Garage, alternates from bits of outrageously stupid shtick to quirky poems and quietly insightful pieces about modern relationships.

And they're in complete earnest about the show's rules, giving themselves exactly 60 minutes to perform 30 plays. Audience members receive a "menu" of numbered titles like "Cakey!" or "Strap-On QNA" and shout out the number of the play they want to see. Exactly 60 minutes later the show stops when an alarm sounds, cutting off a play in mid-sentence if it isn't finished.

As in their script 43 Plays About 43 Presidents, the group shows an irreverent interest in U.S. history and current affairs. "Crazy Horse" offers a meditation on the Native American warrior. In "Abraham Lincoln," Jay Torrence recites the Gettysburg Address while Andy Bayiates does everything he can to distract him. Pieces can be as personal as "Circuses and Elephants," Rachel Claff's nostalgic reflection on bygone summers, or as esoteric as "Go Tell a Bowl of Aunt Rhody," in which Ryan Walters eats sugary breakfast cereal and plays the violin.

Since first performing Too Much Light in 1988, the Neo-Futurists have rotated in new members and constantly updated the menu: A total of 4,625 plays have been presented to date. They're not all gems, at times relying on trivial observations or jokes worthy of groans. But the show is much greater than the sum of the plays, providing an often hilarious, high-energy collage of people trying to find meaning -- or at least meaningful punchlines -- in the world around them. That Too Much Light works as well as it does is a testament to the Neo-Futurists' level of dedication, comic timing and faith in their audience. As theater artists, they're the real deal.

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind plays through March 15 at Dad's Garage Theatre Company, 280 Elizabeth St. Thurs. 8 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m. and midnight. $15. 404-523-3141. www.dadsgarage.com.

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