CHAMPAIGN — If you feel some theater and other performances are too long, head over to Parkland Theatre to see its latest production: Neo-Futurist plays from "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" — 30 plays in 60 minutes — and as a warm-up, Christopher Durang's short comedy "The Actor's Nightmare."
Director J.W. Morrissette and cast promise the entire show runs 90 minutes, not counting a short intermission. And the promise is solid: a countdown clock on stage will time the presentations of the Chicago Neo-Futurist plays.
"It ends at 60 minutes even if the last play isn't over," Morrissette said before rehearsal on Monday night at the Parkland Theatre, where the plays opened Wednesday and run through Sunday. "If we don't make it through all 30 plays in one hour, a catastrophic event takes place."
The audience also is involved in that it shouts out the number of the play it wants performed. The numbers are posted on a huge sign above the stage, with the corresponding titles printed in the programs.
This gives each performance a different feel and leads to spontaneity while challenging the cast members to remember their lines, cast members said.
Seth Valentine, a University of Illinois student who is directing "Too Much Light ...," portrays the host who keeps things running.
Another possible plus for the audience: Each evening the 315-seat house is sold out, the cast will order a pizza for the audience.
Theater-goers are expected to share.
"Usually people are too modest and won't go up to the stage" for the pizza, said cast member Clara Byczkowski, a UI acting student.
The performances of "Too Much Light ..." and "The Actor's Nightmare" are designed to celebrate theater and performers and their relationship with the audience, said Morrissette, a UI theater faculty member.
That's why he and the cast decided to open with "The Actor's Nightmare," which is about theater.
In it an actor — George Spelvin, played by Valentine — stumbles on stage to realize he's in a play. He not only doesn't know his lines, but also doesn't even know he's supposed to be in the show.
"It's something people can relate to if they've ever had a presentation to give or worried about having to speak in public," Morrissette said.
Durang's play lasts 30 minutes. There will be a short intermission between it and the Neo-Futurist shorts, which average 2 minutes each.
During the summer, Morrissette and Valentine read the 600 "playlets" that the Chicago Neo-Futurists have written and performed since 1988 in their signature show, "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind." It's the longest-running show in Chicago.
Valentine and Morrissette chose 30 they believe were topical and not Chicago-centric. After selecting the cast, the two revised their selections to better fit the actors.
Rachel Warren, a Parkland student in the cast, said the 30 plays offer a variety of styles. Some are funny. Some make you think. Among their subjects are theater, relationships and prejudice.
Another benefit for the audience is that the 30 short plays are accessible intellectually, Morrissette said.
"All said and done, the show runs 90 minutes and really does celebrate the audience because they become part of the play, which is something that doesn't happen with movies," he said.
If you go
What: Parkland College Theatre presents "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" — 30 Chicago Neo-Futurist plays in 60 minutes, plus Christopher Durang's short comic play "The Actor's Nightmare" (directed by J.W. Morrissette and Seth Valentine)
Cast: Clara Byczkowski, David Dillman, Sherrika Ellison, DeVonte Johnson, Michelle Mills, Zach Ross, Griffen Schulman, Mark Fox, Rachel Warren and Valentine
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 14), Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Parkland Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C
Tickets: $14 for adults; $12 for students and seniors 55 and older; $10 each for groups of 15 or more
Reservations: http://www.parkland.edu/theatre; 351-2528