Back to the Neo-Futurists

Before every performance of their Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, members of the Chicago-based theater troupe The Neo-Futurists make name tags for audience members. This gesture might seem welcoming -- if said badges didn't brand recipients with labels like "Dog Breath." Still, in the context of such an offbeat production, the odd nicknames set the mood for what's to follow.

After all, Too Much Light not only violates theater traditions such as the supposed fourth wall that separates actors from the audience ("We're not going to pretend we're staring off into the fields of France," explains Neo- Futurist ensemble member Noelle Krimm), but it also invents its own conventions.

The show, which has been running in the Windy City for sixteen years, toys with theatrical standards as it attempts to present thirty plays in sixty minutes. Within the bounds of that experimentation, audiences dictate the sequence in which the thirty Neo-Futurist original playlets unfold. By juggling selections from its accumulated body of work and adding bits of improv, the group ensures that no two performances are the same. So even though this weekend's stop at the Beaver Creek Theatre Festival will mark Light's third visit, the comedy will still be fresh.

In addition, the Neo-Futurists will unseal their time-pressured original production 43 Plays for 43 Presidents, a collection of two-minute biographies with more spice than the History Channel and more brains than a VH1 retrospective. But the Futurists don't pick favorites. "They're mean to everybody but Jimmy Carter," says Shelley Woodworth, spokeswoman for the Vilar Center for the Arts.

Krimm insists that "Washington comes off pretty well," but she concedes that the comedy is a "bi-partisan smack-down." And speaking of smack-downs, Dubya wrestles Al Gore, WWF-style, during a bit about the current prez. Unlike Too Much Light, the content of Presidents does not change, so it won't acknowledge such events as Reagan's death. "Knee-jerk revisionist history when presidents die is dangerous," says Krimm. "All of a sudden, it's, 'He was a great man; let's put him on Rushmore.'"

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Caitlin Smith