Everything You Need to Know About Chicago’s Realest Late-Night Show
Created in 1988, the Chicago troupe known as the Neo-Futurists have been honing their unique performance aesthetic for nearly 30 years. The prime example of their work for most of the last three decades was their ever-evolving late-night show, “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” which held claim as the city’s longest-running show until 2016, when the company’s long-departed founder pulled the rights to the title.
The current Neo-Futurists in Chicago, along with spinoff troupes in New York and San Francisco, put their heads together to overhaul their flagship production, and all three cities debuted a new show, “The Infinite Wrench,” on March 3, 2017. It combines familiar elements from “Too Much Light”— including the chief conceit of performing “30 Plays in 60 Minutes” — with fresh new touches; but then, like its predecessor, “The Infinite Wrench” is fresh every week. Here’s an step-by-step look at what to expect when you attend.
Get there early to line up.
The Neo-Futurarium occupies the second floor of an Andersonville building above a former funeral home. (The funeral home closed in 2013 and there’s a new tenant on the ground floor now, but “above a clinical trials facility” doesn’t have the same frisson.) The doors open on Fridays and Saturdays at 11PM, but a line starts to form outside much earlier, sometimes before 10PM and often wrapping around the corner by 11. It’s a relic of the years when tickets were walk-up only, and the act of lining up itself was part of the experience. For a big chunk of the Neos’ natural audience — counterculture-seeking teens coming in from the suburbs or the city’s college campuses — attending “Too Much Light” or now “The Infinite Wrench” is a rite of passage, and anecdotal stories about friendships struck up in line abound.
Bring cash — including singles.
Before you head up the stairs, you’ll receive a token of some kind — maybe a plastic army man or a worn old Trivial Pursuit card — that guarantees you entry to the show. Then you’ll make your way through a winding maze of hallways (take a minute to check out the Hall of Presidents, featuring quirky portraits of each of the country’s chief executives) before emerging in the “State Park,” a holding area outside the theater where you’ll find rotating art displays and a merch stand. If you’re a walk-up customer, this is also where you’ll trade your token in to roll a six-sided die that determines your price of admission, from $10 to $15. To keep things moving, be ready with exact change. (These days you can also buy advance tickets online, including on TodayTix, but half of the house at each show is still reserved for walk-ups.)
You’ll never see the same show twice.
On entering the theater, an ensemble member will present you with a name tag (emblazoned with an arbitrary new moniker) and a menu of that evening’s 30 plays. The cast’s goal is to get through all 30 in under an hour, as measured by an onstage darkroom timer that’s started at kickoff. New two-minute plays are written and integrated into the show every week. And though the menu remains the same for each weekend’s three shows, the order of performance is determined each night by the audience’s shouted orders — which helps give “The Infinite Wrench” its scrappy, sometimes sloppy, and endearingly frantic vibe.
The plays can be topical, farcical, political, personal and sometimes nude—but they’re never fictional.
One of the Neo-Futurists’ guiding principles is that the writer-performers are never playing characters; they’re always on stage as (a version of) themselves. Don’t expect your standard sketch-comedy setups; as a matter of fact, don’t expect every play to be funny (though they often are). Because new pieces are added weekly, the writers sometimes choose to address very current events, and their approaches can be angry, silly, raunchy, or sexy. You might see highly choreographed lip-synch routines, hear intensely personal stories of trauma, or watch self-deprecatingly goofy reenactments of childhood embarrassment. And, in our experience, there’s a good chance you’ll see cast members getting at least partially naked. Come prepared for things to get really real. And by the time that 60-minute timer buzzes, you’ll be planning your next turn of the “Wrench.”