Full disclosure: this is only the second Neo-Futurists show that I have ever seen with last season’s “Daredevils” being the first. Still, I think I can surmise why it’s tricky to make any “critical” pronouncements on this smart and smart-alecky troupe—these guys and gals will be the first ones to call themselves out on things that could seem dramaturgical hindrances for some, but for the Neos become sources of self-deprecating humor to be enjoyed by others. So while “Poker Night at the White House”—the Neo-Futurists’ new show at the Neo-Futurarium—is too long, too prolix, at times too puerile and could use another puppeteer, by the time an actor in a gorilla suit was running around in a madcap Keystone-cop chase through various doors they had secured my vote for their inchoate blend of theatrical history and hijinks. A one-act mediation on “America’s worst president…so far,” “Poker Night” examines the Warren G. Harding administration that was replete with more scandals and stupidity than you could fit into one Republican presidency…so far. Packed with real interesting yet real useless historical information, the performance is memorable for the cute and clever shadow-puppet work that dominates the show’s visual stamp, as well as the comical and charismatic turns by Neo-Futurists Noelle Krimm, Jay Torrence, Luke Hatton and puppeteer Barbara Whitney, who almost steals the show with that gorilla suit. I loved the life-sized puppet of W.G. Harding whose presence constantly reminded me of those satirical Spitting Image puppets from the 1980s that also skewered the politicians of the day. And finally, whether it’s a permanent art installation or a collection assembled for the run of this show, the hallway of presidential paintings and portraits by various Chicago artists that leads up to the auditorium within the Neo-Futurarium—a Truman painted in the colors and with the intensity of a Keith Haring; a Cleveland as disturbing as anything by Francis Bacon; a regal Clinton that actually makes him look attractive—is astonishing and the perfect compliment to one’s enjoyment of the play. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
This production is now closed.