Kristie Koehler-Vuocolo is one of five members of the Chicago-based Neo-Futurists who will make themselves at home around Red Bank as they bring their show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, to Two River Theater this month.
By TOM CHESEK
Maybe you’ve seen the ads for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the new summer-season production that kicks off a four-week run at Two River Theater this Thursday; and maybe you’ve wondered just what this show is, you know, about?
Well, it’s about an hour. Pretty much exactly sixty minutes solid from the top of the clock. And within that hour, so it’s been promised, a paying customer can expect to see some thirty separate plays, some lasting for a matter of seconds, together comprising a body of work that runs the gamut of the theatrical experience you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you know the drill. Beyond that, you’ll have to ask a Neo-Futurist.
To anticipate your next question, a Neo-Futurist is a member of a performance troupe that was formed some 20 years ago by Greg Allen in Chicago home to Second City, Steppenwolf, David Mamet and other titanic touchstones of the stage arts. It’s a company that’s counted among its alumni the creator of Urinetown, Greg Kotis, as well as the technically-not-a-member Stephen Colbert. And, for a generation now, it’s been the proud purveyor of Too Much Light, an institution that’s been as much a part of modern Chicago life as night-game home losses by the Cubs.
Unlike other ridiculously long-running stage offerings like The Fantasticks and The Mousetrap, the “signature” work of the Neo-Futurists is an ever-morphing entity that bears little resemblance to itself from night to night, let alone compared to its younger self. But it’s not an “improv” show it’s entirely scripted and rehearsed. And it’s not necessarily a comedy, as you’ll discover soon enough. It’s also not a tuneful revue, although the company includes such musically minded types as Screeching Weasel founder John Pierson. And, if you’ve read about Too Much Light… playing an ongoing engagement in Manhattan, well, it ain’t that, either that’s an independent production created and performed by the satellite troupe the New York Neo-Futurists, whereas the version that Red Bank audiences will take in is an authentic reconnaissance pod off the old Mothership.
Fortunately, the oRBit desk at redbankgreen was able to track down an actual Neo five-year veteran Kristie Koehler-Vuocolo as she and her fellow Futurists Jessica Anne, Jonathan Mastro, John Pierson and Jay Torrence prepare to set down roots on the crimson banks of the Navesink for a stand that continues Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 27. Here’s how that played out.
Chicago’s Neo-Futurists, with Kristie Koehler-Vuocolo second from left, guarantee “thirty plays in sixty minutes.”
I’m aware that you’ve been performing Too Much Light for sellout crowds each weekend at your home venue in Chicago, but is this the first time you’ve gone out on the road with this thing for any length of time?
No, I’ve been to DC twice; I did two weeks in Michigan; Charleston, Houston, Louisville…
And is it a different show in those other towns, or in Red Bank for that matter, than you would see in Chicago?
Yeah, because it’s always different. If you’re going to the opening night, our first performance in Red Bank will be different from every other night of the run.
So even if you’re one of the “Superfans” who come to the show all the time in Chicago, you’re still never having the same experience twice?
I guess that’s partly the reason why a lot of people seem to think they’re in for an improv sort of show; something like Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood bring around here every year.
Actually, each play is carefully rehearsed. There are no costumes or sets or anything, because none of us are appearing as another character; we’re all appearing as ourselves. We just have a curtain and a clothesline, with the numbered cards for the thirty plays.
The way I understand it is that people call out a number that corresponds one of the plays, then someone yells GO! and you perform that play, and then on to the next one until you’ve done everything that you’ve prepared for the evening.
Well, it’s the order of the show that’s different every night, so the whole tone and feel of the show depends on the order. It can leave you in a completely different mood, depending on how things happen.
There’s no dominant playwright behind this thing, right? You all contribute material to the show?
We all write, perform and direct. And, at least at the start of things, we try to be democratic about it; six plays of mine are in, and there are six from each of the other people.
From what I’ve read about you guys, you do a lot of hyper-current stuff that reflects the news of the day, but are there some real tried-and-true standbys that you like to perform regularly?
Well, any plays about family and one’s love life are always current. They never go out of style. I wrote a play in 2005, about wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq, that’s still very current these days. When we do it, we go through a list of names of the wounded in Iraq, then we leave that list on the floor for the rest of the show; the list winds up getting stepped on a lot of the time, and some people are really offended by that. And then there are plays that are really crowd-pleasing. It’s just that part of what we like to do is to challenge people.
The show is funny people tend to think of it as funny. To the average theatergoer it will seem like a collection of skits, but much more highbrow and edgy. A lot of times people will laugh at the beginning, then as that performance takes shape there’s a sort of cool transformation. But, when they’re surrounded by comedy, even the serious pieces resonate in a different way. It keeps the audience on its toes. And it’s not a laugh riot every moment, because it’s interactive.
Well, you don’t want people thinking it’s Tony ‘N Tina’s Wedding either. Your cohort Jonathan Mastro mentioned a part of the show where you bring food onto the stage; you whip up a batch of Jello pudding.
That’s one of Jonathan’s contributions, called “Half Naked Pudding Pie.” We performed that one a lot in the past. Sometimes it would happen at the beginning of the show, and we’d spend the rest of the hour covered in chocolate pudding. “Art Party” is another one, where members of the audience create a work of art onstage. We’ve done plays where we’ve gone into the audience, or had people from the audience come up on stage. They’re either volunteers, or we make them volunteer!
Well, good luck with the show. I can say that because standard theatrical tradition or superstition doesn’t seem to apply here. And good luck with all of you living together in one house, like Real World Red Bank or The Monkees.
I have in-laws in the area… Rumson, I think! I can always stay over there if it gets to be too much.
Tickets for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind are $20 across the board, and can be reserved by visiting the Two River Theater Company’s website. While you’re there, check out the schedule for the Mrs. OLearys Cow Film Festival, a special series of nine movies that have something to do with the city of Chicago it’s all part of Two River’s month-long salute to the Windy City, so arrive early and enjoy “Chicago karaoke and kielbasa on the plaza” out front.