Chicago Tribune, January 10, 2003
'Neutrino Project' yields positive charge
by Chris Jones
In this improv-soaked city, there are hundreds of actors who can riff for hours on any subject under the sun and in whatever aesthetic style a fevered, youthful imagination can conjure. Be the improvisation vehicle long-form, short-form, musical, satirical, ethnically based, relationship-driven or merely based on an inanimate object, you can be sure that a striving someone in Chicago already will have driven it to death in some squalid little theater on the North Side.
And that historical reality makes a fresh, funny and remarkably inventive show called "The Neutrino Project" at the WNEP Theater all the more remarkable.
It's only once a week late on Saturday nights and it only runs for about an hour. But it's not to be missed.
The concept here needs a little explanation. Poorly titled, "The Neutrino Project" purports to be a fully improvised movie. Granted, the likes of the great British director Mike Leigh have experimented with unscripted filmmaking for years, but the FuzzyCo production company goes a good deal further. "The Neutrino Project" is composed of a one-time film that's prepared, performed, shot, distributed and exhibited in less than an hour. Fuzzy Gerdes directs.
The night begins with a group of actors, directors and camerapeople standing in the WNEP Theater. They solicit a title in the typical long-form fashion (last Saturday it came back as "Surfing") and borrow objects (a Herman Hesse volume, say) from the audience. But they then run out of the theater and split into groups on the street. Scenes are then filmed simultaneously in the Lakeview blocks surrounding the theater and runners rush the material back to the theater, where it's shown to the audience just a few seconds after it was stuck in the can.
Remarkably, the result is a funny full-blown movie with several different interlocking narratives (think "The Hours") which all come together in the closing scenes. Last week, there was the sad tale of lonely urban souls all looking for the pleasures of summer: the epic drama of two Florida-bound vacationers with a lost car, an inappropriate office summer romance, lost luggage causing sisters to fall apart, and a tale of newfound love and interconnected betrayal in a local restaurant.
The concept which originated at the Upright Citizens Brigade, recently kicked out of its little space in the less-hospitable Manhattan is not only very clever, but it also creates the kind of tension-filled petri dish in which the best improv finds fertility. The cinematic form expands the improv vocabulary riffing camerapeople can focus in on objects or bewildered bystanders to great comic effect and it engenders a terrific sense of immediacy. In few other theatrical entertainments can one keep constant watch on one's illegally parked car across the street and watch with horror as an errant valet parker bangs its bumpers.
This idea is, of course, not easy to do well. The producers need to think of inventive ways to better cover up the inevitable pauses between scenes. And there were times last week when some of the mainly theater-trained actors were too overblown for acting on camera.
But those are minor quibbles. Gerdes' instant movie was an instant blast. The place already was packed last weekend. And as word of mouth builds, "The Neutrino Project" will become a big, deserving, late-night hit.