New Year’s Eve. My earliest memories consist of being left in the car in the parking lot of a swanky restaurant while my parents partied it up inside. It’s okay – they paid the valet guy to check on me every 20 minutes and sent a busboy out with a couple peel n’ eat shrimp shortly after midnight. I made that up, so put down the phone – no need to call The Department of Child and Family Services to have me placed in foster care. Kids my age never get taken in, and I’ll end up in an orphanage – one of those mean ones where I’ll be forced to sell newspapers on the corner every night to earn my bowl of cold porridge. Actually, I usually got dropped off at Grandma’s where we would make popcorn on the stovetop, watch Dick Clark, countdown to midnight, go on the back porch and shoot AK47’s into the air, and then fall asleep on the sofa bed with a transistor radio under my pillow. The next morning, Pops would pick me up and we’d hit the diner that my other Grandma managed so he could get some Bloody Marys while I got some cookies from the bakery case. Win win.
Eventually, I was old enough to partake and would show my gratitude for those earlier years by taking Grandma to the corner tavern where we would drink blackberry brandy, eat pickled hard boiled eggs, countdown to midnight, go out in the parking lot and shoot AK47’s into the air, and then pass out on the front lawn. Win win.
Lately, my New Year’s Eves have been pretty mellow – a bubblebath with some apple cinnamon scented candles and a hot stone massage from a Romanian prostitute and I’m ready to face a new year.
But this year we had a houseguest from out of town and I felt the pressure to entertain and pretend my life is not as lame as a Josh Groban video. So I bought us tickets to the special New Year’s Eve show of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind at the Neo-Futurists’ Theater located above the Nelson Funeral Home. For anyone that isn’t a hipster in the know like I am, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (TMLMTBGB) is a show consisting of 30 plays presented in 60 minutes. On regular nights, no reservations are taken so you need to be one of the first 150 in line to get in. If you make the cut, you roll a die and pay the amount of your roll plus $7. Instead of a ticket you get a “Hello, My Name Is…..” tag with a randomly assigned name. I was Betsy Ross for the evening, the Mrs. was Likes To Dance, and our visitor was Former Star. Since it was NYE, they did accept reservations and also provided a pre-show buffet and beverages from Whole Foods. I loaded up on the spinach feta patties and the crab cakes with a side of artichoke dip and chased it with a can of Squirt, and I was ready for showtime. Eleven minutes before 11 p.m. we were hastily corralled into the sparse and raw performance area, given a one-page program listing the “menu” of plays, and selected our seats. First rule was “when we sell out, we order out” so they called the pizza joint around the corner to buy pizza for audience for after the show. One pizza for 150 people so make sure your voice is heard when it’s time to yell out toppings. Next they explain how it works – the numbers 1 through 30 hang from a clothesline above the stage. When they say “curtain” to end a scene (or start the show) you yell out the number you want to see next and they grab whatever number they hear first. The show starts at the top of the hour with a countdown – kind of. You count down from 10 by even numbers, back up by odd numbers, and then back down to zero by prime numbers. They then spend roughly ten frantic seconds setting up the scene, yell “Go!” and any of the one to five cast members perform that play. It’s ends with “curtain” and the process repeats. Some are hilarious, some are political, some are absurd, some are offensive, some are emotional. It’s like a box of chocolates left out in the sun and you’re trying to eat as many as you can before they totally melt and then you’re left with gooey fingers and trying to decide whether to lick them or wipe them on an unsuspecting friend. Our guest spent about 75% of the evening with her mouth hanging open in shock, and about 50% of that time with her hand covering said mouth in horror. Some highlights:
The Dance of Death: The first play consisted of two cast members facing off with bags on their heads and pointing large shiny knives at each other. The next two minutes was an absurd but interesting negotiation and reconcilation between the two.
Strip Rock-Paper-Scissors: Just what it sounds like. A cast member squares off against a volunteer audience member. Pun intended - there was a loser in this fast-paced match.
How To Remain Friends With A Box: A touching story about trying to keep the memory of deceased friend alive through a box of their possessions.
Why Can People Still Make Fun of Gypsies and Not Be Considered Politically Correct? Also, We Are Stealing From You: The cast comes out dancing and performing as stereotypical gypsies, bringing an audience member onstage to dance with them while they steal her purse and sweater.
Crazy Bitch: Totally unexpected – a monologue not about a psycho ex-girlfriend, but about the experience of being totally swept away emotionally by a person or a piece of music or art. I was transfixed. Swept away in the moment myself.
Boys Gone Wild!: Sure, one male cast member spent most of the play suckling the nipple of another male cast member, but the narrator presented an amazingly effective social commentary on the issue of breastfeeding in public.
And that was only 20% of the show I just described. I could continue, but cannot give it justice. It can be frantic, hilarious, tense, thought provoking, offensive but most of all, fun. There is cursing and occasional nudity, so leave any holier than thou attitudes or kids at home. Otherwise, get your ass to a future performance. They also expanded into New York in case the terms of your probation don’t allow you to visit Illinois.
Each week they also roll a pair of dice to determine the number of new plays that will be performed the following week, resulting in ever-evolving show that is now in its nineteenth year. It’s a great concept – I want to go back to see another performance but I’m saddened that many of the plays will be “retired”, until I remember that the ones that I saw on NYE once replaced old favorites from a previous show. What a great metaphor for life – change may be uncomfortable, but if you embrace it you open yourself up to even greater experiences and success. In that respect, maybe we should all strive to be Neo-Futurists. I suppose that made it quite an appropriate show to bring in the new year.
Happy New Year, all y’all.
(Oh, and The Lovehammers performed in some hotel ballroom, I'm sure to the delight of all fans that showed up. They rock and put on an awesome live show, so I expect NYE was no different. Please support them in the upcoming year. And show some love to The Von Ehrics, too. And Broad Tosser. Hell, any local artists of your choosing. Just turn off the damn TV!)