Review by Karen Topham, American Theatre Critics Association member.
If you don’t know the Neo-Futurists by now, what’s wrong with you? The Best of the Infinite Wrench celebrates their 30th year of performing tiny little plays in their funky Uptown theatre, and they are always worth checking out.
The Infinite Wrench is the successor to the long-running Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, and it continues that hit show’s format: the talented cast performs up to thirty playlets in an hour, in a sequence chosen by the audience. When the timer runs out, so does the show. Plays range from silly and funny scenes to dramatic monologues to plays partially improvised in front of you to outrageous visual humor to elaborate gimmicks to social commentary to...I could go on, but the idea is that there is no single idea governing these short plays, all of which were written by Neo-Futurist cast members themselves.
The 2018 “Best of” show features thirty short plays culled from this year’s weekend late night shows. (More plays are constantly being written and developed; in thirty years the grand total is 10,486.) Even the ‘Best of” lineup will change with each performance. Some of the most memorable playlets in Sunday night’s show were the intensely funny “inside of leah there is an alter ego…” in which member Leah Urzendowski reads from a script her somewhat deranged alter ego has written; “Note to Self,” in which various cast members give both serious and comic advice to their 13-and-14-year-old selves; “Be Sharp Against the Light,” in which an audience member gets boldly painted from the neck down (it helps to be wearing old clothing); “performer, audience, relationship” in which the cast members act out the various relationships between performers and audiences; and “Chicago,” in which a production of the musical is ruined by one actor who doesn’t realize that the play isn’t about the current political climate. That list (which is only five of the evening’s thirty plays) should give you an idea of what to expect.
Any version of The Infinite Wrench is going to be a surprising, occasionally powerful, often hilarious and always entertaining evening spent with some of Chicago's finest improv artists. And the best part is that you get to go again and again because it’s never the same twice. If you do go, don’t fail to spend some time perusing the Neo-Futurist Hall of Presidents, with all 45 US Presidents portrayed in sometimes serious, sometimes satirical, sometimes silly ways. It’s a visual complement to the show itself.
The Infinite Wrench is a Neo-Futurist production now playing at 5153 N. Ashland Ave, Chicago. “The Best of” show runs through Dec. 9, but the main show is in an open run. Check the website for specific dates, times, and tickets. Find more information about current plays in our front page recs and at theatreinchicago.com.