Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind

Jessie Alsop, Mike Puckett, Kyra Sims, Katy-May Hudson, Nessa Norich and Dan McCoy re-enact watching 2016 presidential election results.

By Andrew Andrews

Long before the ensemble set up shop in New York City, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes (or TMLMTBGB for short!) premiered in Chicago... and it’s run nearly twice every weekend since 1988! As the title suggests, the cast of a half-dozen performers (always playing themselves, as per the Neo-Futurist manifesto) attempt to perform thirty short plays (each ranging from mere seconds to a few minutes in duration) within a one-hour time limit. They often don’t make their quota, but they never fail to entertain the audience with a plethora of witty, satirical and autobiographical stories before the clock runs out.

Take for example, tonight’s episode: perhaps because the presidential election is such a recent memory, many of this week’s play were political in nature. In one of the first pieces, titled Yes, And: A Patriotic Play for 2016, the performers—not actors, please: performers—narrated an act of colonialism by removing the first row of audience members from their seats and covered them with a sheet in an ineffective effort to “hide” them. Later, in Two Immigrants Discuss America’s Geopolitics in a Post-Trump Era, an Aussie and a Kiwi carried out a heated argument about whether a picnic cooler (as we call them in the U.S.) is actually an “esky” or a “chilly bin.” Perhaps the most direct attack on the election came from Carmina Burana or What Death, a Grand Finale and the 2016 Election Have in Common, in which the entire cast re-enacted their watching the poll results, erupting into a tremendous food fight that escalated into the apocalypse.

If political satire isn’t your thing, however, don’t write off this show: as with the often-compared Saturday Night Live, not every sketch is about the powers-that-be. In The Future Is Present, a cast member sat at a table like a tarot reader or spiritual medium as others, one-at-a-time, entered the stage and sat in the chair opposite him. After explaining their state of mind and asking for advice, the “reader” reached into a bowl of fortune cookies and opened one in a very dramatic way, then read the fortune as his advice. Eventually, even someone in the front row of the house filled the seat!

Yes, in addition to the high energy and enthusiasm of the cast, what makes TML such a treat is the breaking of the fourth wall and the involvement of the spectators. Often, the performers spill off the stage and into the auditorium, or otherwise bring the audience into the scene. Occasionally, this merging of the space is taken to the extreme: in Why It’s Good We All Are Not Audience Members Reason #22, all six performers filled scattered empty seats, leaving the stage bare for an uncomfortable half-a-minute. There’s a certain Rocky Horror-like feeling to attending TML even though, quite contrarily, they have almost nothing in common.

Perhaps the most significant impact that the audience has on the show is in deciding the order in which the plays will be performed. Above the stage, thirty sheets of paper hang from a clothesline, each with a large number on the front and a play on the back. Upon entry, each guest is handed a program that lists the same numbers and the associated title—no more information than that. When an ensemble member yells “curtain,” everyone in the crowd frantically shouts out the number of the play they’d like to see performed next, and the first—or sometimes, the loudest or clearest—number heard by the cast is ripped down from the line. The play title is read, the director (for that piece) calls out “Go!” and the performance begins!

Or at least, that’s how it usually works. Tonight, however, the Neo-Futurists threw us a curve: in Making TML Great Again (as Inspired by the Electoral College and the YouTube Videos Defending It), cast member Mike Puckett announced that it’s unfair to allow every audience member equal say in what play should appear next, and decided it was time for a change. All of the remaining numbers were ripped from the line and divided into two stacks. Half was given to someone in the larger “main” section of the house and half was handed to someone in the smaller “rollercoaster” section (so named because each row has only two or three seats, like an amusement park ride). For the rest of the play, only one person in each section had the ability to call out a number.

Without getting into a review of every single piece, this should give you an idea of the variety provided each week by the Neo-Futurists. Check out our Periscope video for Box Wine, in which cast member Katy-May Hudson whines about anything and everything until Kyra Sims and Mike Puckett pick her up and deposit her into a large cardboard box. And you might like our Instagram photo of the cast (rounded out this week by Nessa Norich [who sounds amazingly like Janis Joplin], Dan McCoy and Jessie Alsop [on loan from the San Francisco company]) leading the audience in a pre-show count-up with pantomimed Roman numerals, although it doesn’t do justice to how much fun it is in-person. Definitely check out our Instagram video of Sims eating yogurt out of Puckett’s mouth in A Reenactment of the Night I Realized That I Was 30 Years Old and Emotionally Homeless, and That Being Able to Eat a Nice Yogurt at 2:15 in the Morning While Wearing a Light Winter Coat Might Be the Only Stable Thing I’ve Got Going for Me Right Now, featuring Yogurt as Yogurt, Mike as Yogurt Container, Dan as Coat and the Kraine Stage as My Friend Rob’s Kitchenette.

Yes, you can see more photos and watch more videos from the Neo-Futurists online, but to really appreciate Too Much Light, you have to catch it in person. Lucky for you, they’re just about to start a run of Best of 2016 shows on December 9, 10, 16 & 17, making this the perfect time for your first time.

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Andrew Andrews attended Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind at Kraine Theater in New York on Friday, December 2, 2016 @ 10:30pm to write this review.