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I recommend this week's Reader cover story on the Neo-Futurists' Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, which I read with proprietary interest. Gene Dillenburg was identified by reporter Janet Potter as an "audience member," but an audience member who saw the show 40 times in 50 weeks when it opened 25 years ago. "We weren't actors and audience; we really were just a bunch of strangers sharing a space for an hour," Dillenburg told Potter, remembering 1988.
I remembered Dillenburg. I first wrote about Dillenburg—brought him to the attention of Chicago, I'd like to think—the following March, when Dillenburg was a young Turk who'd just launched a movement he called the National Association for the Advancement of Time (NAFTAT). He aspired to stamp out the 60s, and by 1989 it was hard to argue that it was still too soon. Dillenburg said he'd found allies in the Neo-Futurists, and had even contributed to their repertoire of two-minute plays.
"This huge generation is obsessed with themselves, obsessed with their own past, and that's why we have this classic rock and crap like The Wonder Years," Dillenburg told me. "If they want to wallow in their own past that's all right, but the problem is they're making us live there, too." Dillenburg was born in 1960, which makes the young Turk 53 today, and possibly more of a wallower than he used to be.
Dillenburg was immediately the subject of a searing exposé. "Is this the same Eugene Dillenburg who was given a grant by [Columbia] college to explore the 'Paul Is Dead' rumor he so fervently and loudly expounded?" a couple of readers wrote me. "Is this the same Eugene Dillenburg who then took his 'Paul Is Dead' lecture act out on the road for further fame and profit? Is this the same Eugene Dillenburg who, at the drop of a hat, would launch into discourses on the Beatles with any fellow students who cared (or had) to listen?"
Dillenburg came clean. "Guilty as charged," he replied. "Indeed, NAFTAT was founded by three Beatle fans who had grown disgusted with the way nostalgia has distorted the Fabs' accomplishments. The Beatles are still a favorite, second only to Bananarama. By way of explanation, let me say that the Beatles are not the 60s and the 60s are not the Beatles. By way of defense, let me say that previously I was not as astute as I am now. PS: I am flattered you remember me after seven years, but please, we must not live in the past."
I'm not sure what it says about Too Much Light that a character like Dillenburg would see it 40 times in 50 weeks and be willing to reminisce about it a quarter century later, but it says something. What is says about Dillenburg is that he seems to have made his peace with ancient history.
Potter also talked to various cast members. Phil Ridarelli, who's been in the cast since the show was launched, was asked which of the 8,500 playlets that have constituted Too Much Light over the years he particularly remembered. One he named was Honestly. "For the next 60 seconds Phil Ridarelli will answer any yes-or-no question you ask him with complete honesty," he explained. "It usually starts out with, are you wearing underwear? Are you gay? And then it actually gets to more interesting questions."
Back around 1988 I took my daughters downtown to see Santa Claus at Carson's State Street store. He was such a good Santa Claus I asked our old babysitter, who worked at Carson's on weekends, to find out who he was.
Phil Ridarelli, she reported. What I remember best about the first time I saw Too Much Light was discovering he was in the cast and thanking him after the show.