In the lobby before the show, guests joined in the special festivities planned for the much loved (and sometimes much hated) holiday.
Heart-shaped candies and chocolates filled dishes, lights doused the place in a romantic glow, and there was a honeymoon giveaway of two decorated seats in the audience.
Sitting in a nearby booth,Logan Conner provided tough-love romantic advice for a donation of a couple bucks.
Logan Conner offers love advice (Photo by Emily Torem)
“Think of a scenario with two options” he said. He judiciously studied the reporter's facial expression, and after a few beats declared, “go with option two.”
Mostly couples [have been asking for advice]. [It hasn’t all been] positive," Conner said. "Sometimes you gotta be rough with people. They need to get nostalgic, to remember it's Valentines Day.”
The Neo-Futurists theatre company has performed original shows in the Edgewater/Andersonville neighborhood for 20 years. The longest-running production in Chicago (now in its 21st year), their show "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" comprises 30 plays, each two minutes long, that touch on a variety of topics.
Some are abstract and some are straightforward. Some are humorous and some dark. One thing all the plays have in common (besides their two-minute cap) is they are all written by their performing casts, and all have a very short shelf life. On Feb. 14, it was "Too Much Love Makes the Baby Go Blind," with the usual hour of two-minute plays all themed around love and relationships.
Artistic Director/ensemble member Ryan Walters introduced the showcase by breifing the audience on the instructions. Each person was given a menu, listing the 30 plays for the evening’s performance. The plays hung from a clothesline, and everyone was required to shout out the name of the play they wanted to hear at once. Whichever name reached a Neo-Futurist’s ears the fastest won, and he or she lept, snagging the play number off the clothesline. A timer was set for an hour.
"[There are] 60 love minutes--all about love and desire," Walters said. "Some of them are funny, but some are not. Some are abstract, human, bizzare--the gamut of human emotion.“
The performance was constructed all of plays previously written by the cast members, but curated especially with Feb. 14 in mind. One, entitled coupleskate, poked fun at the longstanding tradition.
“if you are in a triad, you must leave the rink, ” a voiceover said.
Another play acted out the lifespan of a long-distance relationship. From offstage, a boy and a girl both shouted sweet nothings at each other, interspersed with breif meetings in view of the audience, until they broke up, determining they would both save a lot of money on airfare.
The “Fourth Wall”, or that invisible barrier between the audience and the performers, is eliminated at the Neo-Futurarium. Actors use their real names on stage, with a few exceptions, and one could easily see an out-of-breath outfit change occur between plays in plain view. The actors even bared all -- in one play an unsuspecting character was tackled by several of her naked castmates.
Play No. 29, entitled "Hate Yourself" stirred up the audience into a frenzy (see photo below). An actor scrawled "I f*cked up" onto a chalkboard, and was joined by other self-denigrating statements from his castmates.
Then as they were beckoned, the audience made their way on stage, until the board was covered with messy declarations of self-criticism--"pushover...don't care about anyone...drink too much." Soon the entire audience was jumping up and down to loud music on stage, in a giddy expression of the knowledge that everyone alienates themselves, and in doing so has at least one thing in common with all of humanity.
Audience members flood the stage during play No. 29, "Hate Yourself." (Photo by Emily Torem)
A guest was selected from the audience to ride a bouncy ball across the stage in one play. Another was given various messy food items and encouraged to make a dish as sloppy and dirty as possible. When the selected partipant managed to create a "mess" that was both dainty and aesthetically appealing, the cast members laughed. The actors play off of the audience reactions, which shapes each play a little differently than the last time it was performed.
For "Wedding Proposal" a small table with a candle atop it stood on a bare, unpopulated stage. “This play is reserved for any unexpected wedding proposal," said a voiceover. The two minutes ticked by, but no one proposed.
"When I did the show earlier this year, a guy came down and his girlfriend wasn't in the audience," said founding ensemble member Rob Neill after the show, "and he actually called her on the phone and then he left a message, which was really awkward."
The audience wasn't alone. The actors also had no idea whether a newly engaged couple would leave their theater that evening either. Too Much Love, like its year-round cousin, Too Much Light, combines the use of improv, which is largely a draw off of the constantly changing audience, and scripted performance, to create the Valentine's Day experience.
Neo-Futurist Rob Neill talks about working in the the theater company, audience interaction and what other kinds of other special shows the group has done.