‘Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind’ by the Neo-Futurist at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

I’m blind.

No, actually, during a merciless chanting of “God, God, God, God, God…” in a piece entitled “Two Minutes of Organized Religion,” I put my head between my legs and held a silent scream while most of the audience pointed toward the Woolly ceiling, chanting along with the other zealots.

The Ensemble. Photo by Joe Mazza Brave Lux.
The Ensemble. Photo by Joe Mazza Brave Lux.

So I still have my eyesight, and my giggles, and my feelings of community and those good times that the Neo-Futurists have brought to Woolly’s wild and wonderful downtown.

And I’m still as unorganized as I was prior to this roustabout carnival of thirty theatrical tweets in sixty theatrical minutes.

To be clear, if you want a stage play in two acts (or three to five), or a one-act 90 minute two-hander, or a 75-minute monologue about your favorite celebrity or invented character, or anything that’s not fast, furious, and anti-representational, then Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is not for you.

Also, if you want an evening of performance that is not religious during this Christmas season (note the contradiction), that’s not political during this Holiday Season (note the contradiction), that’s not directly addressing the white power structure during this time of good cheer (note the contradiction), then Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is not for you.

Because during its sixty-minute of non-stop (even for a breath) ferocity, the performers will offend and/or provoke and/or incite and/or annoy, if only for 41 seconds here, or another 34 seconds there, or maybe for a minute and 11 seconds over there.

They will challenge anyone who believes in anything other than the communal spirit of camaraderie and joy and creativity that they evoke.

Ensemble member Bilal Dardai. Photo by Joe Mazza Brave Lux.
Ensemble member Bilal Dardai. Photo by Joe Mazza Brave Lux.

The format is simple enough.

Across the stage is a clothesline and, upstage, a timer. On that line, are papers with the numbers from 1 to 30 printed on them.

When you enter the Woolly, you are given a menu of thirty plays, with titles like “38 Grapes,” “Assisted Cartwheel”, “Standoff: Sex Shop, Sundown”.

A number is called out by the audience. That paper is taken down from the line. The title is read. The timer is struck, the play is performed.

“Curtain.”

Another number is called out, so on and so forth until the sixty minutes or the thirty theatrical tweets have elapsed.

Each night, some of the plays on the menu are struck; some new plays are added, so on and so forth.

Thus, every evening of performance is new and exciting.

The Neo-Futurists have been performing in Chicago since 1988, when they opened Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. The Light first came to Woolly five years ago. I saw it then.

And, because I’ve always had a fondness for flashbacks and hallucinations, as well as Dada and Surrealism and Italians, I wanted to see it again.

Now, the show is even more visceral with exuberance, with depth, with “light”.

With an ensemble of five performers (on-stage) and a roomful of performers (in the audience), Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind gives everyone a chance to participate, and I still have the mark on my cheek to prove it.

Member of the Ensemble. Photo by Joe Mazza Brave Lux.
Members of the Ensemble. Photo by Joe Mazza Brave Lux.

Ida Cuttler, Lily Mooney, Bilal Dardai, Malic White, and Trevor Dawkins make up the on-stage performers (though new members join the ensemble later in the run).

A young woman from the audience (who I’ll call “Pet” [in a piece entitled “Caring for your Pet”]), spent at least half the show on-stage, up-stage, being petted, fed, and given a dildo, etc.

Another young man in the front row had the most intimate of performer / audience encounters that you are ever likely to see (unless one goes back to the Living Theatre’s live sex-shows). Let’s just say: “Bodily Fluids were exchanged.”

The texts for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind were created by the ensemble. The format for this experiment in “Sound Bite Theatrics” was created by Greg Allen.

Finally, and I think most importantly, we theatre-goers in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital–the Capital of the “Free” Empire–have forgotten what the rest of America looks like, much less what the rest of the world might actually engage in on a day-to-day basis.

We’ve grown accustomed to Washington’s representation of humanity, which really means, the lawyers’ representation of people (given the fact that 1 out of every 20 Washingtonian is a lawyer [and I’m confident that the theatre-going public runs at an even higher ratio]).

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and the Neo-Futurists are decidedly not lawyers, at least in the traditional sense (maybe some belong to Lawyers without Borders). They are not, and have never been, members of the political class, either directly through their art or by association or cooption at fundraisers. (Whether or not they receive money from the political establishment I’ll leave to future researchers.) (And whether or not you’d get a straight answer from them if Joe McCarthy [I mean Donald Trump] were to ask them, is debatable).

The Neo-Futurists and their extremely refreshing take on the human condition, as it currently manifests itself in Chicago and possibly in much of the nation are decidedly “non-affluent”.

Their “non-affluence” gives them an authenticity that allows them to speak not only to the audience, but also for an audience that, in the main, will not be at Woolly Mammoth, for it cannot afford to go to Washington theatre.

And suddenly, through their Sound Bite Theatrics, we hear the voice of the people burbling on an elite Washington stage, albeit in sound bites, and we are amazed.

And we are entertained.

And we want more.

And I can’t help think that as we left the theatre, we took with us a little of their great good will.

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind deserves to be not only the “longest running show in Chicago”, but the longest running show in anywhere USA.Too-Much-Light-Banner_NEW31

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind plays through January 3, 2016 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – 641 D Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 393-3939, or purchase them online.

Running Time: 60-plus minutes (for setup and explanation).

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

Previous articleScene Stealers/Showstoppers of the Week-December 10, 2015
Next articleNSO Pops: ‘The von Trapps and Stephanie J. Block Family Holiday’ at The Kennedy Center
Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.

1 COMMENT

Comments are closed.