Neo-Futurists and “Ostalgia” weather the storm
No performance in New York was quite as impactful as the front row seats we had for Hurricane Irene, as subdued as she was in comparison to her North Carolina appearance, and with the MTA not running and theatres large and small shuttering their windows and barring their doors, mostly everyone just stayed home and watched the lightning instead. Good thing I’d gone to see New York’s “only open-run Off-Off-Broadway show”, the Neo-Futurists’ “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” and the “Ostalgia” exhibit the night before, or this week’s installment would be a total washout.
Since 1988 in Chicago and 2004 (plus three years in the ‘90’s) in New York City, "Too Much Light…” has been a weekly event featuring a high-energy ensemble attempting to perform 30 original plays in 60 minutes. Ranging in subject (last weekend) from drunken dancing jellyfish to repression of homosexuals on the African continent to a Shakespearean pie-fight, each play is performed in a random order according to numbers shouted out by the oddience. Though given a “menu” of titles at the door it’s impossible to know what to expect from a play called “portrait of a little town near the top of Maslow’s pyramid” (a brief description of the inhabitants represented by illuminated models of their houses), or “Life I Love You, all is Groovy” (three actors dunking themselves repeatedly to an iconic Simon and Garfunkel tune) until viewed, and to ensure non-repetition of experience, each week dice are rolled to determine how many plays will be dropped from the roster to be replaced with brand-new ones.
“Remember,” a smiling cast member reminded the applauding crowd, “if you’ve seen one Neo-Futurists’ show you’ve seen it once.”
Highlights of Friday’s show at Horse Trade’s Kraine Theatre included the snacks (sold-out shows include a free pizza ordered for the entire theatre), the gratuitous display of flesh (it was also the Half-Nekkid edition), the introduction of newest company member, Ricardo Gamboa, a brief shadow play deconstructing the phrase “a murder of crows,” the aforementioned monologue about the repression of African homosexuals (“The African Pig and Dog Report”) performed by company member Nicole Hill, a scripted pickle fight, and “(un)see,” a moody reflection on indelible images branded on the brain which branded itself on mine with bursts of incandescent light punctuated by abrupt blackouts, as a hooded figure (Jill Beckman) crawled across the stage recounting the memory of a tragedy.
Meanwhile, at the shiny, metallic behemoth of the New Museum down Bowery way, an intriguing exhibit of Eastern Bloc reminiscence entitled “Ostalgia,” is combining installation art, video, photography, sculpture, and paintings from a large cross-section of contemporary artists influenced by Soviet occupation.
Taken from the German term “ostalgie” or “nostalgia for aspects of life in East Germany,” “Ostalgia” broadens its borders to include artists from some 20 countries. Members of the “Moscow Conceptualist” movement such as Erik Bulatov, whose triptych of boldly-colored, abstracted landscapes dominate the gallery wall on which they hang, German sculptor Thomas Schütte, whose ominous metal and clay “3 Capacity Men” watch over a series of Michael Schmidt photographs of post-Cold War Germany, Lithuanian videographer Deimantas Narkevicius represented by his quirky video footage of a re-installation of a statue of Lenin, and Russian arts collective Chto Delat? (What is to be done?) with an impressively detailed, interactive timeline of the “Rise and Fall” of the Soviet Union interspersed with strange mythological creatures and wry commentary.
Much like an evening of Neo-Futurist playwriting, the bravery and breadth of subject is as varied as it is irrepressible, gazing forward into the future through the lens of a difficult past.