On Friday, April 13 I sat in the East Village’s Kraine Theater watching a show like no other. The show was Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind by the Off-Off Broadway theater company the Neo-Futurists. It made me laugh, elevated my pulse and left me reeling. Since moving to New York six years ago to pursue a career in the performing arts, I’d heard about the bold work the Neo-Futurists were doing from my friends in the business. Among fellow theater-folk, it’s described as the show one “simply has to see to believe.” That night, I finally took it upon myself to go see what all the fuss was about. By the evening’s end, my only regret was that I hadn’t gone sooner. Too Much Light is a hidden gem of new and exciting theater.
Too Much Light isn’t the tourist-friendly jukebox musical so many acquaint with New York theater nowadays. The show bills itself as “an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes.” The plays are performed in a repertoire that constantly evolves and expands. They are written and re-written each and every week, with new material constantly introduced into the fold. The show’s program boasts that as of April 13, 2012, a total of 2,674 plays had been performed by the company in New York alone. “Impressive,” I thought, as I sat in the house prior to the start of the show, “but what can they show me that I haven’t seen already?” Plenty, it turns out.
In place of a traditional curtain, a clothesline strung with thirty numbered pieces of paper was stretched over the stage. Each number corresponded to a play listed on the program. At Too Much Light, the audience decides the order of the plays in the show. When the timekeeper says “curtain” at the end of each play, the audience members yell out the number of the play they wish to see next. The night I was there, number 23 was the first selected. The play number jumps to 19, then four, then seven and so on. The subject matter of the plays varied wildly from farce, to social commentary, to confessional monologues.
The first show was entitled “Sharing the Spotlight With Jeffrey Cranor.” In it, company member Jeffrey Cranor stood in a spotlight and was accosted of unknown wrongs by a fellow player over a microphone. The next play, “Cockbox,” featured three other company members inspecting a box labeled “Box” on one side and “Cock” on the other. No dialogue, just the word “Cockbox” spoken, and then harmonized over and over again for two minutes. In the night’s most unexpectedly moving moment, a man described the experience of being raped as a child, bringing himself to tears in the process. The very next play featured an actor breaking all ten of God’s Commandments in one minute. This is the very dynamic that makes Too Much Light so exciting: you never know what’s coming next. The order of the plays always varies, the tone turns on a dime and no two shows are ever the same. It’s a fresh and vibrant form of performance that often feels lacking in so much contemporary theater.
To that end, Too Much Light incorporates the audience into the show several times. Normally, audience participation is an exercise in forced awkwardness, but the Neo-Futurists somehow made it enjoyable. One play brought an audience member on stage to smash eggs and throw flour into the crowd as a form of social protest. Later, an actor placed a vibrating ring on his penis and presented a remote control for it to an audience member sitting in the front row, giving them permission to make it buzz whenever they like. I was the audience member given the privilege of “dick jolting” him. He laughed and begged for more as the evening progressed. This performance closed with the play “Getting A Man’s Pants Down With Heels On: A Stripper’s Deconstruction.” Once again, I was the lucky spectator brought onstage while three women attempted to remove my pants using only their six inch heels. They nearly got my belt buckle undone when the buzzer sounded, ending the show’s hour, and saving me a fair amount of explanation to my girlfriend later.
I can say from personal experience that the hardest thing for any actor to do while performing is live in the moment. The Neo-Futurists thrive in the moment; tearing through a litany of material at breakneck speed and making it seem effortless. Having seen a great deal of theater in my time, I can safely say there is nothing like Too Much Light playing anywhere else. It’s whimsical, exciting, thought-provoking and inspiring. It’s a mad experiment in theater art that pays off beautifully night after night. Any fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway? or The Upright Citizens’ Brigade will find plenty to love, but appreciators of classic and musical theater won’t be disappointed either. No other show has left me as delightfully delirious and eager for more by the end. In fact, I’m ready to step toward the light a second time and bring a friend along when I return for the next show.
In The Wandering Brooklynite, Corey will take you to some of New York’s more unusual attractions. He’s not limited to Brooklyn and is always open to suggestions. Never been to a burlesque show? Want to know more about late-night sketch comedy? Whether you’re a resident or a visitor, Corey’s travels won’t lead you astray. E-mail your ideas to email@example.com