Friday, September 16, 2005

We rock.

Some reviews:

Neo-Futurists snap to it in 90 minutes of thoughtful crassness
By Nina Metz
Special to the Chicago Tribune

The Neo-Futurists can be quite cerebral. They are by no means snobby
about it, however, and that's a good thing because the troupe's newest
show, "Daredevils," demands a heaping dose of stupidity from its
performers.

Packed tight with antics that would give any rational-minded actor
pause, "Daredevils" manages to be a thinking man's "Jackass" — minus
the fecal obsession and sublimated homoerotic subtext.

Friends, this is raucous, good-time theater, a small-scale killer
spectacle that is likely to be the most entertaining 90 minutes of
juvenilia and self-reflection you'll see all year.

The cast of five, led by show creator Ryan Walters, trots out to the
fist-pumping sounds of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll (Part 2),"
wearing identical jumpsuits and looking like a deranged pit crew, or
Devo circa "Whip It."

They execute cheerleader dance moves in formation (choreographed by
Genevra Gallo), and then a booming voice intones,
are-you-ready-to-rumble-style, "DAREDEVILS!" Talk about working your
audience into a lather

True to Neo-Futurist form, the actors here portray themselves. Each is
subjected to a Q&A that probes a masculine nerve: "Did girls like you
in high school?" and "Have you ever been beaten up?" It's a canny
exploration of why anyone — and it is surely not just men — takes
foolhardy risks.

The stunts themselves, picked at random from a kind of
wheel-of-misfortune, range from the seemingly harmless — squatting on
a plastic Fisher-Price pseudo-bike as it careers down a ramp — to the
ingeniously deranged — a cast member, shod in spiky high heels, walks
on the stomachs of his cohorts.

There is, of course, a difference between an act of courage and an act
of danger, and these thrill seekers address this with a cold-eyed
scrutiny, as well.

"Welcome to High School All-State" has the group stripping down and
snapping wet towels at one another as angry red welts sprout on many a
torso. "A daredevil always cleans up after himself," a cast member
cheerfully notes while moping up the water mess afterward.

Working on a set designed by Dan Broberg that brings to mind the
flaming Big Wheels logo from my youth, this is an exceptionally
well-matched ensemble. Dean Evans, with his wiry intensity and blond
Pee-Wee Herman looks, is a standout, as is Andy Bayiates, the droll,
self-designated asthma boy.

The whole shebang is directed by Halena Kays, a member of the
Hypocrites and artistic director of the comedy ensemble "That's Weird,
Grandma." Like a handful of other first-rate women directors in town —
including Amy Morton and Kate Buckley — she is a skilled,
pedal-to-the-metal artisan when it comes to testosterone-fueled
theater.

The male ego is in good hands.

Chicago Free Press

By Web Behrens

Contributing writer

If ever a show deserved an exclamation point in its title, this is it. But these “Daredevils” are confident enough in their capabilities that they don’t bother with such an attention-getting device. They save their heightened enthusiasm, and their interjections, for the stage.

Still, it’s easy to imagine a satisfied audience laughing and shaking their heads on the way out of the theater, recalling the crazy shit they’ve just seen. Walking on broken glass! Catapulting through the air! Eating super-spicy food while riding a unicycle! The result is 90 peculiarly entertaining minutes repeatedly punctuated by gasps, laughs and shouts.

And not just from the audience—from the five-man cast too. When spectators help randomly determine the next bout of wacky jack-assery, the guys occasionally shout, groan or curse. Especially if they’re about to end up on the receiving end of a whiffle-ball assault. During one madcap melee opening night—a wet-towel-snapping free-for-all, which manages to be funny, sexy and painful all at once—creator Ryan Walters exclaimed, “Isn’t that 30 seconds yet? Jeezus!” Priceless.

This being a Neo-Futurist take on a stunt show (partly inspired by the MTV shenanigans of Johnny Knoxville), the five writer-performer-knuckleheads do more than perform feats themselves. Under Halena Kays’ brisk direction—and with some sweet dance breaks choreographed by Genevra Gallo—they tell (or sing) the true stories of past daredevils, from Niagara Falls jumpers to risk-taking icons Harry Houdini and Evel Knievel. They also, of course, involve the audience—not just one or two folks, but everyone, in a tricky match of Simon Says. Good times.

What “Daredevils” lacks is some deeper insight into the entire phenomenon of daredevilry. Why not hear more from the ensemble—Andy Bayiates, Anthony Courser, Dean Evans, John Pierson and Walters—when they talk about their own histories of risk-taking and their motivation for doing this show? “It’s fun” only just scratches the surface, while some provocative questions (inquiring about what makes them feel most like a man) point to a much deeper well.


Chicago Reader

No stunt coordinator is credited in the playbill, and the Neo-Futurists are hardly polished gymnasts, so it's not surprising that this show's feats tend more toward the contemplative than the spectacular. For a little over an hour, five charming rowdies demonstrate risky ventures great and small--eating highly spiced curry, for example--accompanied by biographical sketches of Knievel wannabes and philosophical discourses on the nature of reckless behavior. Ryan Walters's show needs some tightening; lengthy setups dilute the impact of genuinely difficult tricks like Dean Evans's barrel roll and John Pierson's underwater homage to the immortal Houdini. But Anthony Courser's thrilling long jump through a paper screen delivers all the heroic swagger expected of action-oriented entertainment. --Mary Shen Barnidge

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