Choose Your Own Theater Adventure

Theater fans with a taste for the irreverent, or those merely suffering from a short attention span, may find the perfect elixir with Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, playing every weekend at the Belt Theatre. Baby, billed as the brainchild of Gregg Allen, is written, directed, and performed by the Neo-Futurists, a Chicago group represented here by a talented sextet of performers able to balance repertory and improvisatory demands on a weekly basis. They create 30 independent vignettes to be performed in the space of one hour, with the order set at the audience's discretion. There's nothing scientific or even artistic to the scene selection. The Neo-Futurists hand out a list of scenes, and audience members shout out the scene number based primarily on the titles in front of them. In 36 weeks, the cast has performed nearly 300 mini-plays.

Some scenes work better than others, which makes sense given that a number of them come and go on a weekly basis. "F****n' Hat," for example, is a surprisingly meaty scene, with Desiree Burch pontificating on negotiating love and sex. Most scenes are much lighter, however: "Small Furry Animals Present: 'Closer' " allows the cast to re-enact the current Mike Nichols movie using stuffed animals. "Deja Smurf," the scene the audience chose to follow it, had the Neo-Futurists replay the previous scene while two cast members applied blue face makeup. "Shot in the Dark" has Burch reading a name out of the phone book and questioning aloud whether that person is in the audience.

And then there are many scenes that involve no dialogue at all, presumably to ease the cast's memorization demands. "The Critique" featured Justin Tolley seated onstage wearing a pair of eye goggles while a tomato sat on a chair across the stage. Tolley waited and waited for an audience member to fling the tomato his way. Finally, someone did. This type of sketch makes for cutesy filler, but says very little. What, exactly, is the subject of the critique?

Another sketch, "Deconstruction of the 80s Family," has the cast replicating the opening credits of TV's Family Ties, with one family member at a time being removed from the picture. That's nice and nostalgic, but pretty facile material. Of course, at times Baby gets even more prurient than that; the evening also included references to male genitalia and even a flasher.

On the other hand, given its premise, there is no reason to take Baby too seriously. But one can't shake the feeling that the cast is trying way too hard to be edgy when they are far better at being tongue-in-cheek rather than hip. Sarah Levy, in particular, stands out. She is reminiscent of Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose (but as a brunette) and is equally mercurial. Regie Cabico demonstrates a wonderful degree of physical comedy, and while Michael Cyril Creighton and Molly Flynn lacked similar scenes in which to show off, they complemented the ensemble nicely.

It is unfair to form much of an opinion based on a single night's viewing of Baby, as its experimental nature will always make it seem like a work-in-progress. And while the Neo-Futurists provide an evening that is more diverting than truly memorable, they definitely should be given a chance to continue. The Belt Theatre becomes a restaurant in several weeks, leaving the show in need of a new home. I certainly hope that it finds one, as it would be unfair to let this light go out.

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