REVIEW: Laika: Dog In Space (The Neo-Futurists)

  
  

Too much quirk, not enough substance

  
  

 Rob Neill, Jill Beckman, Eevin Hartsough in Neo-Futurists' Laika: Dog In Space.  Photo by Lauren Sharpe

  
The Neo-Futurists present
   
Laika: Dog in Space
  
Written by Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough and Jill Beckman
Directed by
Phil Ridarelli
Music by
Carl Riehl
at
The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
thru March 12  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

The Neo-Futurists are renowned for their experimental theater works, but the transfer of their New York branch’s Laika: Dog In Space tries too hard to be quirky and off-kilter, resulting in a scattershot production that is hard to connect with. Building on the true story of Laika, the first mammal sent into space, and incorporating elements of children’s story The Little Prince and cult classic television series “The Prisoner”, Laika: Dog In Space is intended to be a meditation on the nature of isolation, but the message gets lost in the execution. And while Neo-Futurist shows are often informal, they are usually not messy, which makes the unpolished presentation of Laika even more disappointing.

Jill Beckman, Eevin Hartsough, Rob Neill in scene from 'Laika: Dog in Space' at Neo-Futurists in Andersonville. Photo by Lauren Sharpe.For those unfamiliar, Laika was a stray dog that Russian scientists sent into space in Sputnik 2, making it the first mammal in orbit, but killing Laika in the process. Writer/performers Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough, and Jill Beckman imagine that Laika lives on in “The Village” (pronounced “vill-AHj”) an isolated space rock where she is visited by a small fairy that tells stories to pass the time. While the fantastic elements of The Little Prince are apparent, the influence of “The Prisoner” is harder to grasp, beyond giving Laika’s rock the same name as the location of Patrick McGoohan’s Number 6 and putting the performers in white lab coats with numbers 1, 2, and 6 on them. A voice instructs the performers on what steps to take next, whether that is “Isolation Investigation,” “Prisoner Trajectory,” or “Storytime,” but the separate elements struggle to come together in a coherent manner.

The Neo-Futurist’s Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (our review ★★★★), has given them a reputation for creating mini-plays that run the gamut from comic to serious to smashing a potato with a sledge hammer. Laika alters the format slightly by telling multiple stories that are connected through the common themes of space, isolation, and imagination, ranging from personal anecdotes from the actors, historical accounts of Laika’s origins, and rock and roll musical interludes. The musical scenes suffer from the volume of the band, which drowns out whatever the actors are singing whenever all four members are playing. Either the actors need to be amplified more, or the band needs to play quieter, a difficult task in the Neo-Futurists’ small space.

A heavier emphasis on technical aspects than the usual Neo-Futurists production means more opportunities for things to go wrong, and despite the casual atmosphere of the show, it’s difficult to overlook Laika’s technical issues. One TV screen displays a “Line In” box rather than the images of the other screens, the pulley rig for Laika’s Village set malfunctions at the end of the production, and an audience interaction portion involving cassette players and headphones is an ill-timed mess. By trying to fit too much, the individual parts suffer, yet despite Laika’s misgivings, when the actors get explicit about the intent of their production, the script finally clicks.

     
A scene from 'Laika: Dog in Space' at Neo-Futurists in Andersonville. Photo by Lauren Sharpe. A scene from 'Laika: Dog in Space' at Neo-Futurists in Andersonville. Photo by Lauren Sharpe.

Jill Beckman in scene from 'Laika: Dog in Space' at Neo-Futurists in Andersonville. Photo by Lauren Sharpe.

While I usually have issues with plays that don’t follow the “show, don’t tell” rule, Laika: Dog In Space needs those moments where the actors pause and explain just what is going on, otherwise the show makes no sense. The play’s themes of reality vs. imagination, fact vs. belief, and isolation vs. community become clear once the actors flat out say that those are the concepts they’re trying to get across, but I wish it were evident during the more abstract moments of the show. The production tries to create a sense of community within the room, whether it is through making borsch that the audience can all eat after the show or by pulling audience members on stage to drink Tang upside down, but these elements fail to enlighten the deeper message of the play. Despite being well-performed, the script needs a stronger focus and the technical aspects need to be cleaned up if Laika: Dog In Space hopes to truly take off.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Regular performances continue through March 12, playing Thurs/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm. Two Monday night performances: February 21 and 28 at 8:00 p.m.  Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. All performances take place at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland.   Get your tickets now…

     
     

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The Neo-Futurists announce their 22nd Season

THE NEO-FUTURISTS ANNOUNCE THEIR 22nd SEASON OF ORIGINAL WORK

neo-futurists-ensemble07

Prime-Time Season

Prime-time shows run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (at Foster) in Andersonville. Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can during previews and on Thursdays. For tickets or information, visit www.neofuturists.org or call The Neo-Futurist Hotline at 773-275-5255.

 

Aug 19 – Sept 25 Daredevils’ Hamlet
  Created and curated by Ryan Walters  (bio after the fold)
      
  Channeling the 2005 hit Daredevils, the men in jumpsuits take competition to a new level in this meta-destruction of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Director Halena Kays returns to direct this thematic adaptation of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by challenging feats of revenge, passion, and failure. The Daredevils prove there’s no better way to feel alive than by exploring a show that deals with copious amounts of death.
     
   
Feb 5 – March 12 Laika Dog in Space
  by Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough, Jill Beckman and Carl Riehl
    
  East meets Midwest when the NY Neos bring their 2009 Ontological Incubator hit to the Chicago stage. Part science lesson, part Russian folklore and part introspective interpretation, Laika Dog In Space uses original music, dance and puppetry to help tell the story of Laika, the first mammal in space, and to discuss the impact of her life. Arrive early to take advantage of a living installation takes the audience through various stations where they listen, confess, create and experiment. And of course, the step back in time to the mid-80’s Soviet space program wouldn’t be complete without a helping of borscht!
     
      
April 30 – June 4 Performing Tonight! Liza Minnelli’s Daughter
   Conceived by Mary Fons (bio after the fold)
     
  What would you do if you believed you were destined for greatness but fate screwed it up? Life is hard, and Mary knows it all too well, but she is positive that her one-woman theatrical spectacle (featuring a cast of three) is a one-way ticket to the extraordinary life that she was supposed to lead – life as the daughter of Broadway and big screen legend, Liza Minnelli. In Performing Tonight! Liza Minnelli’s Daughter, Mary Fons is Mary Minnelli, a woman with a shaky past, but a bright future. Enthusiasm, delusion, ambition and a little bit of obsession blur the lines of fact and fiction in the Neo-Futurist prime time season closer.
     
     
ONGOING SHOW Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
  The Neo-Futurists’ signature show, performed since 1988, is the longest-running production in Chicago history. Too Much Light… is an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. Each week the ensemble adds between two and twelve new plays to the menu. Every performance creates an unreproducible, living-newspaper collage of the comic and tragic, the political and personal, the visceral and experimental.
   
  TMLMTBGB runs Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30pm, Sundays at 7pm, Tickets $9 plus the roll of a six-sided die (so $10-$15)

tmlbgb-ensemble Ensemble for Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind

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