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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review- Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (5th Anniversary)

The Fab Marquee review by Karen Tortora-Lee.

This past year everywhere I turned I kept hearing "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind". I saw cards for it in theaters I went to. I saw ads for it in the programs of the shows I was reviewing. And finally, I heard it nominated (for Outstanding Ensemble as well as for Outstanding Performance Art Production) when I covered the New York IT Awards a few weeks ago. Okay, enough! I had to start asking myself - What was all the fuss? Why was it getting so much buzz? And moreover, was the title of this show a warning ... or instructions?

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I finally got the chance to see what all the hype was about when I attended Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (presented by The New York Neo-Futurists) this past weekend. To say that I had fun is an understatement; this show is an that is wholly and totally unique, and one which left me with the kind of giddiness I used to have as a kid after a day at Great Adventure. You know the feeling-that energized, amped-up type of feeling that gets right down into you, that stays with you on the ride home, and that leaves you almost too happy; your mind still buzzing with images and sounds from the day. And these guys were able to do it all in just sixty minutes!

Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind was created by Greg Allen but each show is written, directed and performed by the ever-changing cast of the New York Neo-Futurists which currently consists of Joey Rizzolo, Alicia Harding, Jill Beckman, Sarah Levy, Jeffrey Cranor and Cara Francis. Since the show is constantly changing, there's very little by way of specifics that I can give on what you will see, similarly there are things I'd want to not spoil for you, but I have no idea what's routinely done and what was made up on the fly. Therefore, the best I can do is give you a flavor of what to expect, with a little disclaimer of "possible spoilers ahead", though I promise not to give too much away.

My specific TMLMTBGB experience started with Sarah Levy at the door, in goggles shouting "Hi! What's your name?". When I replied "Karen" she quickly wrote "Baby Corn" on a "Hello ... My Name Is:" tag and handed it to me. When my husband said "Stephen" his tag was written out as "Pea in a Pod". "HAVE A GREAT SHOW!!!" she shouted as we made our way into the theatre. When I asked Stephen what his name tag said, he mistakenly read it as "Pen in a Pool"...which makes no sense but struck me as funnier than Pea in a Pod. We decided to split the difference and call him "Pea in a Pool". Ahhh, nothing like fifth grade potty humor.

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Very soon the show started and the audience was given a run-through of the way the show works. Within moments it became obvious that there were people in the audience who had been there before, because just like the Rocky Horror Picture show there's a routine of call-and-response involved which many people around me joyfully participated in, even before it was necessary, obviously all ready for the fun to start. To begin with everyone is handed a "menu" which lists 30 titles, each with a corresponding number. Hanging across the stage on a clothesline (tacked up with clothespins) were the corresponding numbers of each menu option. When a cast member says "Curtain" (signaling the end of the scene) the audience is encouraged to yell the number of the scene (or the "menu item") they'd like to see performed next. Titles (on the night that I attended) included: TML Call Center: DIAL NOW, DIAL OFTEN! (where 3 of the performers sat behind signs inscribed with their cell numbers and waited for the audience to dial in ...), Let's Grow Old Together (where a member of the audience was brought up on stage and fast-forwarded through "life" with one of the performers, replete with marriage, a family, and vacation photo), What have you done (in the dark) (Lights out, and...well, I'm not completely sure what happened), 67 Seconds for Merce (Performers assuming dance positions that showed up by way of a dice roll; as many as could be done in 67 seconds), Hokey Pokey in Hell (Exactly what it sounds like), Poor Taste Striptease IV (Too soon? Yeah...but REALLY funny...), and 23 others menu items (with one left unperformed at the end of 60 minutes).

One of the things that continued to amaze me was how fluidly this whole hour flowed, despite the fact that these six talented people had to memorize not only the lines, but the blocking, the props, the stage direction and in one fabulous case, the choreography (all of which were pretty complicated) for a constantly changing rotation of two minute scenes (Some of which might have been performing for the first time that night, some of which may never be performed again). Besides just being entertained for an hour, these scenes all managed to be funny and surprisingly thoughtful. Moreover, each person on that stage went all out...there was no holding back. Every single person had it dialed up to 11 and so there was no way to not feed off of that energy. Granted, while one or two menu items didn't quite hold up to the others, it's basically more of a numbers game...when you're watching close to 30 short skits, there's bound to be one or two that don't quite work for you. And if it's only two, that's quite a feat.

While part of the excitement is to see how fast each scene can change (almost like speed chess, you anticipate that "GO!" the way you'd anticipate that thwack of the timer), and how many of the 30 acts can fit into the 60 minutes (with a timer at the back of the stage, there's no doubt when those 60 minutes are up), there's still a sad little "awwww" when it's over because it truly is so much fun to watch. At the very end of the 60 minutes someone from the audience is invited to roll a dice and the number it lands on is the number of scenes that come off the menu, and the number of new scenes that must be replaced for the next performance.

Like a kid who dreads when that roller-coaster slows down and deposits them back to where they started so much sooner than they wanted, but right before they started to get sick, there's an urge to race right back and get in line and take another ride, which is why (I suspect) there are so many repeat customers. And I have to say, with out a doubt I will definitely be going back to see this show, probably with a group of people next time to add to the enjoyment. Judging by the number of repeat customers I witnessed and the fact that this show is now in it's 5th year (not to mention its 20th year in Chicago!) it's obvious that they've hit on a successful formula. Oh, and as far as the question I posed in the first paragraph ... I think the answer is: both.

The New York Neo-Futurists present
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind
Every Friday and Saturday at 10:30pm
The Kraine Theater

If you buy your tickets at the door on the night of the show, they are $10 plus the roll of a six sided die. ($11-$16). You can also get your tickets online at

The Kraine Theater | 85 East Fourth Street | Manhattan.

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