Lear's Shadow and 30 On Thursday: Edinburgh Benefit Performances of Plays From the Archives of "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," Neo-Futurists. At one point in Lear's Shadow, Greg Allen dons a large, flat steel collar. Dropping a Ping-Pong ball onto the surface, he proceeds to roll it around the circular track of the collar, then adds other spherical objects until they're all orbiting noisily. This "king" ball and its "followers," he explains, illustrate the royal hierarchy.
A clever piece of theatrical legerdemain, it's as overtly connected to Shakespeare's King Lear as anything in this Neo-Futurist deconstruction by Allen, Karen Christopher, and Jeffrey Essmann (who also perform). For every direct reflection of the classic--a lip-synched blinding scene, deeds of love and betrayal tallied up with pebbles--Lear's Shadow offers another only peripherally related to its source: the performers' reminiscences about the death of loved ones, a dance performed with the eyes shut, a monologuist wrapped in plastic tubing through which beer is siphoned from one container to another. And playing the action in darkness alleviated only by isolated bits of illumination--matches, flashlights, reading lamps--imposes additional strain on our already taxed intellectual faculties.
As a result Lear's Shadow is more impressive in concept than in execution. After a little over an hour, the big finale brings together pebbles, dolls, balls, a stuttering recording of "The Great Pretender," and other motifs introduced earlier. But by then we've long wearied of these shadows.
Already boasting a national reputation, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is now aiming to conquer the British Isles. But first the Neo-Futurists must raise the substantial funds required to play the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Their solution: off-night anthologies of the show's greatest hits, drawn from its 11-year run.
The format is the same as in the regular late-night show, with 30 two-minute scenes, and the program changes from week to week. Included in the assortment I saw were interpretive dancing, slapstick clowning, parodies of David Mamet and Jane Austen, bemused observations on the hidden meaning of "disco sucks" and on proper ladies' room etiquette and hygiene, a profanity-laced diatribe delivered as a patty-cake rhyme, an imagist poem on the color red, and a downright poignant disquisition on friendship.
--Mary Shen Barnidge