THEATRE REVIEW A grab bag of 30 bite-size treats

Too Much Light holds attention well, has ups and downs

The MIT Dramashop’s production of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind opened and closed this past weekend. If the title of the show strikes you as suspiciously familiar, it’s because Dramashop also put forward a production of Too Much Light in 2009.

Mind you, that’s not to be taken for laziness — TMLMTBGB, as the show is commonly and understandably abbreviated, is unusual in that the lineup of 30 mini-plays that constitute the show is constantly rotating, meaning that from year to year and week to week, the show will be slightly to extremely different. Moreover, the order in which the plays are performed is decided based on numbers shouted to the performers, which means that each performance is different (though not always appreciably so), even on a given weekend, is different from the last.

The distinctive format and conventions of TMLMTBGB was developed by Greg Allen and his Chicago-based theatre group, the Neo–Futurists, in 1988. The constant changes to the show’s content accounts for its longevity, and the play is ideal for those of us with short attention spans and little free time. The show is 30 plays performed in an hour, and the performances stop at the hour mark regardless of whether all of the plays have finished, so although this means there is a chance of not getting to see all of the plays you wanted, at least you don’t have to worry about not getting home at a reasonable hour.

The plays themselves vary in tone from ultra–dramatic dramatic monologue, hypermodern performance art, and fourth–wall breaking metahumor. The show in its current incarnation seems to lean towards the humorous, although there are a few plays of high–gravity social commentary, and I haven’t crunched the numbers on how many there are of each.

There are also several plays with audience participation, like a more adult version of a Disney theme park stage show. Some of the things seen in this year’s production, by necessity given in no particular order: a mummy of bubble–wrap; an overly–elaborate set brought in, then moved off, in the space of about sixty seconds; a sandwich of whipped cream between to bare male chests; the most painfully one–sided game show since Jennings–era Jeopardy!; a lamentation of mediocrity over a game of “Red Light, Green Light”; and a double–handed flying balloon assassination.

The acting quality was very solid, as far as I could tell. One might argue that not knowing which of their various roles they will be called upon to perform next adds to the challenge for the actors, although few of the plays are long enough or characters complex enough to establish lengthy character arcs.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to recommend Too Much Light, the show only played this past weekend at MIT. Incarnations of the show are currently playing weekends in Chicago and New York, for anyone visiting those areas over break. On the off–chance that Dramashop opts to perform the show again next year, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind is a neatly compartmentalized show that’s a good pick for a weekend theatre excursion, even (or perhaps especially) under a heavy workload, so long as you have an hour and a half to spare.

Too Much Light strikes me as the theatrical equivalent of picking a gadget at random from Batman’s utility belt — there’s a play for every conceivable mood or situation (except maybe social conservatives with a large personal bubble and small comfort zone), plays range from the very pointed to the absolutely bizarre, and there’s always the slight chance that something will explode in your face, but that’s part of the fun.