Author: Nicolette Gendron
Sundance Film Festival acclaimed play “Abacus” probed the minds of audience members during its Feb. 2 premiere at the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theatre (REDCAT). The play is a tantalizing mix of theater and live multimedia presentation, putting it at the forefront of alternative American theater. Writer Paul Abacus incites deep thought in a play that questions the creativity and individuality of people living in a technology-dominated society.
The play is modeled after the clear professional style of TED talks, a collection of talks presented at a nonprofit conference bringing together individuals from Technology, Entertainment and Design industries. Abacus appears as the play’s protagonist and boasts in the program’s biography section to have seen “the illuminated future.”
With the click of his pointer- a Wii controller- Abacus presents his ideas of a world without nations, Pangaea, altruism and the battle between traditional and modern American values. Abacus’s stories are supported by a sparkling multimedia presentation of graphs, tables and maps. This seemingly flawless exhibition convinces the audience of the validity of his arguments.
Besides pondering what is either fact or fiction, “Abacus” questions society’s understanding of reality. If members of this generation believe everything presented through multimedia and the Internet, how do individuals distinguish what is actually truth? “Abacus” encourages the audience to consider how the technological identity of this generation masks the beliefs of each individual, specifically one’s personal “cause” in life. “Abacus” is a truly mind-bending play that is not for the faint of heart but is worth indulging in because it questions society and one’s sense of self.
Abacus is a good-looking man in his late 20s, dressed in nicely tailored blue jeans, a fitted black shirt and black Converses. He appears to be one of “us”—the REDCAT audience comprised of upscale hipsters, Left Wing advocates, Green Peace protesters, hybrid car drivers with a penchant for Whole Foods, Starbucks and tofu. The only distinguishing difference is the black beneath Abacus’s eyes that gives him the appearance of a warrior, but what he is fighting for is a greater cause that the audience has yet to discover.
Abacus originally captivates the audience with the story of a five year-old boy who asks his mother, upon seeing a rainbow, if there are more colors than just those seen by the average human eye. The three large screens that serve as Abacus’s alter-ego suddenly evolve into a stunning image of hundreds of spinning threads that symbolize the ultra-violet light color spectrum. Abacus explains how some humans, specifically females, can see color emitted by the ultra-violet spectrum. This story and Abacus’s presentation provide an example for one of his major ideas—that society, despite its ever-evolving and expanding technologies, holds steadfast to traditional factoids instead of retaining what is new, modern and reproved.
The presentation then spirals to the heart of Abacus’s message which, through the use of the TED talk template, can be expressed as his life’s work. Upon projecting photos of our world prior to the Ice Age as a Pangaea, he expresses his belief that the continents will combine again in the future as a Pangaea Ultima.
Abacus uses this presentation to advocate for a world not separated into nations. He discusses the definition of altruism which he believes developed from war and the use of “human strategy” in wars catalyzed by battles over national borders.
Throughout the performance, Albacus’ growing excitement (or insanity) over his ideals beckons the audience to answer his rhetorical questions. It is a bold, artistic choice on Abacus’s part but it only furthers his argument that the members of this generation believe wholeheartedly in all that is presented to them via the media.
As an artist, an individual, and a single man part of a larger society, Abacus believes that creativity is “the bond we share with people we will never meet.” And it is Abacus’s own creativity which spawned a play that defies simple theatre and asks philosophical questions. Ultimately, “Abacus” is a play that draws on the audience’s heart strings and makes viewers contemplate the possibility of Abacus’s truth. This play is definitely worth finding and seeing.
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