Friday, December 14, 2007

Review - Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind Best of 2007 (The New York Neo-Futurists)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

Each performance of a play is, by its very nature, a unique experience. Perhaps an actor will be moved by an audience’s reaction and discover something new about his character. A prop may be missing. A line may be flubbed. Perhaps a techie has a hangover. Every little thing affects the show. However, most productions strive to make these differences to be as minor as possible.

The same cannot be said of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the long-running brainchild of Greg Allen, who created the show in Chicago and helped created the New York version. True to his ideal, the New York Neo-Futurists strive to live up to the motto, “If you’ve seen one Neo-Futurist show, you’ve seen one Neo-Futurist show.” While this is great from an audience’s standpoint, it makes for a difficult review.

TMLMTBGB is frantic. And funny. And thoughtful. It’s voice, and rhythm, and dance. It’s yoda dolls, Bichon Frisés, and water balloons. It is 30 plays in 60 minutes. And for two weekends in December, it is the best of 2007.

To choose the best of 2007 must be a daunting task. The New York Neo-Futurists are prolific. In the approximately three years that they’ve been performing in New York, they’ve premiered 1122 plays. Granted, a long Neo-Futurist play is probably still under 5 minutes. But that is impressive regardless. The Neos have narrowed the year’s offerings down to 45 plays. 15 plays are the same in the two weekends of the Best of 2007. There are 15 other plays for the first weekend and a new batch of 15 for the second. 30 plays any given night. If you come to the show both weekends, you’ll still see new things.

What I find most intriguing about TMLMTBGB is that the plays aren’t simply sketch comedy. Sure, there are plenty of funny ones. But the ones that are most interesting and resonate the most with me are the introspective pieces. While there is no guarantee that these will be performed in the last two performances of the Best of 2007, keep an eye out for The Truth About Mormons, a play by Christopher Borg about growing up Mormon and gay, Before it floats away I try to remember it all, a haunting, non-verbal piece by Joe Basile, and my favorite of the evening, Erica Livingston’s This Is Not A Panic Attack, in which the other actors help the audience visualize what a panic attack feels like to her.

The audience favorites tend to be the humorous plays, especially those that incorporate music, dance, and audience participation. Among the best of these are Joey Rizzolo’s brilliant Spoiler Alert, a catchy little song that gives away the secrets of everything from ‘Citizen Kane’ to the final Harry Potter novel, Jeffrey Cranor’s … on arguing Kantian metaphysics over espresso with a Bichon Frise, that is more or less, just what it claims to be, and Salaam-E-Ishq for SRK, by Eevin Hartsough, a marvelous dance and audience participation play that gets better each time I see it.

Though there are only two more shows left in the Best of 2007, the New York Neo-Futurists will be back on January 4th with new shows. If you miss tonight’s or tomorrow’s performances, do yourself a favor and go see a show as soon as you can. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is one of the most exciting and interesting nights of theatre in New York.

[Ed. – The Neo-Futurists rarely attribute their plays to individual performers in their programs. The attributions above are based in part on the New York Neo-Futurists Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind Best of 2007 chapbook, assumptions made based on the casting, their website (, and discussions with individual members of the company.]

Created by Greg Allen
Written, Directed and Performed by The New York Neo-Futurists
Technical Director: Lauren Parrish

Featuring The New York Neo-Futurists: Jenny Williams, Justin Tolley, Joey Rizzolo, Rob Neill, Erica Livingston, Sarah Levy, Jacquelyn Landgraf, Eevin Hartsough, Ryan Good, Kevin R. Free, Jeffrey Cranor, Christopher Borg, Joe Basile.

The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th Street

Friday and Saturday at 10:30 PM through December 15th

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Review - Scapin (Turtle Shell Productions)

Stage Buzz Review by Byrne Harrison

From the moment the audience steps into the Turtle’s Shell Theater, director Shawn Rozsa plunges them into the neon-bright world of Itty Bitty Italy, the village that serves as the setting for Scott McCrea’s new translation of Molière’s Scapin. There are vibrant colors everywhere; it is, after all, the feast of San Piccolo, the patron saint of Itty Bitty Italy. There is the set that doesn’t quite define what space belongs to the actors and what belongs to the audience. And then there is the wise-cracking Musician who welcomes you in and entertains you until the play. It’s a pre-show that practically jumps up and yells “Benvenuto!”

It is also exactly what McCrea’s translation calls for. Rozsa knows that an audience needs to be warmed up for a show like this. It’s hard to come in off the chilly streets and be ready for in-your-face slapstick. This pre-show entertainment allows the audience to steal away from the New York winter outside and bask in Itty Bitty Italy’s warm and welcoming glow.

Scapin follows a pretty standard classical storyline. Two young men, scions of the richest families in town, have fallen in love with women their rapacious fathers would never approve of. Young, rich, and handsome, they are unfortunately not the brightest bulbs, so it’s up to Scapin, the wily servant, to save the day. There will, of course, be sight gags and naughty humor. Secret identities and shocking revelations. Heck, they’ll even throw in some puppets for good measure.

The cast of Scapin does a marvelous job. Most notable is Spencer Aste as the vulpine Scapin. Silver-tongued and not at all trustworthy, Scapin is a wonderful character and Aste seems to have a great deal of fun playing him. As the miserly fathers, John Freimann and Roger Grunwald create grotesque and amusing caricatures, each with wonderful idiosyncrasies – Freimann with a stoop and a weirdly bum leg, the fan-wielding Grunwald with a voice that is equal parts Leslie Jordan and Truman Capote. Though the roles of the young lovers are underwritten, the four actors playing them, Nico Evers-Swindell, Matt Luceno, Maya Rosewood, and Catherine Wronowski, each have several moments to shine . . . and sigh and swoon and pine as all comedic young lovers must. Also praise-worthy is the juggling, guitar-playing, balloon-animal making Jay Painter, who greets the audience and keeps them entertained before the show and during intermission (he also plays a Porter and provides incidental music and sound effects during the play). His wide, toothy grin and willingness to do anything for a laugh are remarkable.

Production values are strong. Keven Lock’s bright and electrically vibrant sets perfectly frame A. Christina Giannini’s ‘70s-inspired (and one suspects vintage, in some cases) costumes. Eric Larson’s lighting shows everything off to great advantage.

Scapin does have its share of slow moments, and like many other slapstick comedies, relies heavily on the audience being really into the show. In addition, there are the usual line flubs, costume malfunctions, and prop problems that are part of live theatre. To their credit, the cast does a good job of covering when needed.

One final note - for the more adventurous audience members, there are a dozen or so seats onstage. While I am generally happiest safely tucked behind the fourth wall, I nevertheless enjoyed being in one of those seats for Scapin. Granted, I didn’t have to deal with an actor’s crotch in my face like one of the other hapless audience members, but there was a certain buzz at being up there during an exciting and energetic show like this.

Producer/Artistic Director: John W. Cooper
Directed by Shawn Rozsa
Translation by Scott McCrea, from the play by Molière
Scenic Designer: Keven Lock
Lighting Designer: Eric Larson
Costume Designer: A. Christina Giannini
Sound Designer: David Roy
Stage Manager: Neal Kowalsky
Assistant Stage Manager: Monet C. Fleming
Marketing and Publicity Director: Jeremy Handelman
Production Assistant; Chrissy Capobianco
Associate Sound Designer: Adam “Zee” Zorn