Time Out Chicago Issue 189: Oct 9–15, 2008
By Steve Heisler
If comedy shows were reviewed on a third-grade scale, Neutrino Project, one of the most innovative, ambitious undertakings in the city, would get an A for effort. After soliciting a made-up film title and props from the audience, three teams consisting of two or three actors and a cameraperson hit the streets to make a movie. The first team shoots a scene then runs it back to the theater, where it’s immediately screened. Meanwhile, the second team works on its first scene to slot in afterward, then the third team; then team one prepares and presents scene two, and so on. The tech guy composes a soundtrack on his computer and edits the scenes. Voilà: insta-movie in under an hour.
In terms of quality, Neutrino is a mixed bag: It shines bright at the end, when the three disparate plot lines blend into each other and the scenes are afforded time for experimentation with framing, close-ups and cutaways. But much of what leads up to the payoff is tedious. So if you’re intrigued by the show’s premise—lifted from a New York troupe in 2002 and returning to the ComedySportz Theatre after a two-year hiatus—here are some tips for getting the most from your visit.
Understand that the beginning’s gonna be awkward. The logistics of the operation dictate that the show won’t start until the first tape is completed. Depending on the ease of scouting a location and getting things right on the first try (there’s no time for multiple takes), it could be ten minutes of waiting. Neutrino compensates by screening B-roll from earlier in the day of storefronts and passersby, which serve as establishing shots for the forthcoming scenes, but also can be a drag. Expect to sit uncomfortably for a bit—though there’s always the theater’s brand-spankin’-new bar.
Be patient with those first scenes. The fact that they’re shot under a time crunch leaves little room for flair; the result is a collection of dialogue-heavy shots that run just under two minutes each. You’ll find yourself wondering why the cast uses cameras at all: Merely taping a talking-head scene doesn’t automatically make it more exciting. But just wait.
Embrace Neutrino’s film-school aesthetic. Anyone who’s ever stumbled on some Columbia College student’s “master’s thesis” on YouTube knows cinematic self-indulgence is the name of the game. But Neutrino is entirely self-aware, and once the stories develop and the cast members, no longer scrambling to turn in tape, have time to let the scenes breathe, they start having fun with the camera. An endangered-species activist admits her secrets to a friend while trapped in an elevator, each one shot at increasingly uncomfortable angles; a PSP–playing hooligan sits at the center of the frame while his partner in crime wildly tries to initiate a falafel-stand robbery in the background; a scene set in a cast member’s apartment works a Kermit doll into every shot. The action, while prerecorded, starts to feel dangerous—catching a snippet of the cameraperson yelling “Cut!” between shots yields huge laughs. And by the time you get to the after-movie outtakes (presented as “deleted scenes”), you’re having too much fun with the form to remember the technical speed bumps.
The Neutrino Project frames itself Wednesday 15.