I've said it once and I'll say it again: the New York Neo-Futurists make my face hurt from smiling. Their brand of clever comedy is unlike anything I've ever seen from another group, perhaps because it is so honestly theatrical. I mean that in the sense that the Neos blow my mind as much with what they're able to do in a theatre as what they're able to do with theatre. Yet their creativity and wit don't seek to exclude the audience, but rather create the kind of community that keeps me coming back to each new project they undertake. So listen up, because this could be your future. . .if you see On the Future.
You should probably click on this video to prepare yourself for the mood of this piece. Or you could click on this one instead. Or you could think of power outages, psychic mediums, physics, and procrastination. The range of topics mentioned here is a result of On the Future's hybrid form. Those who know the Neos will surely associate them with Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, an ever-changing collection of 30 plays done in 60 minutes. Then there are also the full-length plays, such as You Are in an Open Field and The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill: Vol 1 Early Plays/Lost Plays.
On the Future is somewhere in between these two extremes, as Director Rob Neill states in his Director's note. The evening consists of five actors doing six plays written by seven authors. These six short plays are thematically grouped by their association with the concept of "the future," but otherwise they run the gamut in terms of style and genre. Yet On the Future reads as a cohesive show, which for me speaks to the firm foundation of the Neo-Futurists' aesthetics. It is clear that Meg Bashwiner, Ricardo Gamboa, Chistopher Loar, Daniel McCoy, and Adam Smith all know each other as well as they know the tenants of Neo-Futurism, which include actors playing him/herself, audience participation, and real alcohol, among other things.
This tight-knit group of performers extends their feelings towards each other out into the audience, and this show feels very inclusive. One of the first lines in On the Future is about how we, the audience, are part of the "us" that the Neos are referring to. That's a great place to start for those who are new to this group and what they do, as this sense of community is everywhere in their work.
The creativity and purely theatrical innovation that I've come to associate with the Neos is also beautifully expressed in On the Future. They create a situation where the lack of theatrical illusion makes the production more impressive. As you watch them transform the space entirely from play to play, you can't help but be impressed by how they think outside of the box, and even outside of the room. From shadow puppets, to scenes in total darkness, to new uses of mixed media, to incorporating the non-theatrical spaces of the theatre space itself, each short play is its own revelation. I don't mean to speak in such general terms, but part of the excitement of the work is the element of the unexpected, and I don't want to spoil the surprise!
For yet another important aspect of this work is its intellect. The Neos are some smart cookies. Yet I mention this last because my prior two points are important to keep in mind (the sense of community and the theatrical creativity) because "smart" could have a connotation of "heady" or "exclusive," whereas here it exists independently of these associations. It's smart in a generous way. You will learn things. You will also think about things. And they are important things. But you will feel taken care of while these things happen.
So if you've ever thought about the future, the past, the present, or if you've experienced any or all of these things, head down (to the East Village) and up (to The Red Room) to check out On the Future before it ends up in the past.