English Theatre Leipzig’s production of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (TML) is an excellent reproduction of the famous Neo-Futurist play by writer, director and actor Greg Allen. High energy, controlled chaos with a strong reliance on audience participation, this is not your usual, sedate night out at the theater.
For her directorial debut with ETL, Emily Wessel kept many of the original quirks and traditions of TML.
The audience receive a list of 30 plays and shout out the number they’d like to see next. Cast members run to a washing line strung across the stage with the numbers 1 to 30 and pick the one shouted first (or loudest). When a cast member says the name of the play followed by “Go!,” the play begins, and ends when a cast member says, “Curtain!” A timer keeps the tension high and the audience wondering how many of the plays they will get to see, as it counts down from a maximum running time of 60 minutes.
The cast’s ability to keep the energy and enthusiasm going throughout is astounding.
There is no set, other than the bits and pieces the cast haphazardly carry onto the stage at the beginning of each play. Another tradition specifies that on sold-out nights, the cast orders pizza for the audience to enjoy at the conclusion of the play. The trick is that they only order one (or two, as on opening night for this run) for everyone to share.
TML was first performed in 1988 in Chicago, where it still holds the title of longest-running play.
The unusual name apparently comes from the story of a young autistic child who would smash light bulbs while uttering the phrase, “Too much light makes the baby go blind.” Allen remembered it when he came up with the idea for the play, and the name stuck. He was the mastermind behind the Neo-Futurism movement, which drew on Italian Futurism as well as influences from Dada and classic improv.
The play’s history is checkered, with a seemingly decades-long dispute between Allen and other Neo-Futurist Theater board members finally culminating into Allen pulling the rights to the play’s name (which he owns) in 2016.
In the Neo-Futurist approach, all cast members play themselves and there is no pretense. The aesthetic demands complete honesty from the actors, and it is very “in the moment,” very zen.
Instead of transporting the audience, taking them along on a journey of imagination, the production imitates life.
The collection of plays in TML is nothing if not eclectic, and veers wildly between the hilarious, mundane, very personal, political, social, and intimate. In one skit we have a hysterical Britney Spears endorsing some charity fundraiser (she’s not sure exactly for whom, or where). This might be immediately followed by a game of tag, including audience members and cast running hell-for-leather through the theater.
Honesty dims the lights and asks increasingly personal questions of the audience.
Starting with, “Do you consider yourself an honest person?,” audience members raise their hands for yes through a series of questions, some lighthearted, some deeply personal. What started off with laughs soon ends on a somber note, in a blacked-out theater, until the call of “Curtain!” breaks the spell.
Upon reflection, my fondness and admiration for this play grew. I was admittedly a bit bewildered at the conclusion, and needed a few days to mull it over.
It seems that opinions are about as varied as the topics covered in the play itself. Many people absolutely love it, and went to multiple shows. I was definitely entertained, but needed some time to process it all. A relaxing night at the theater it is not.
Get yourself a ticket and get to Neues Schauspiel this weekend to see what the fuss is all about. You’re in for an entertaining night, that’s for sure!
TML has its last two shows on Friday, 13 and Saturday, 14 December at the Neues Schauspiel Leipzig, Lützner Str. 29, 04177 Leipzig.
Tickets are available here, by telephone at 0341 927 997 70, or at the door, but shows tend to sell out so we recommend reserving in advance. Tickets go for 13€, reduced price 9€.