ABACUS is a large-scale, multimedia presentation directed by Lars Jan that combines a plea for the dissolution of national borders with an examination of two types of modern persuasive media: TED-style PowerPoint presentations and megachurch sermons. Friday at EMPAC’s Filament Festival, it was ambitious. It was passionate. And it was too long.
Dwarfed by six huge video screens that interspersed live feeds from two steadicam operators, PowerPoint slides and video snippets, Paul Abacus did the heavy lifting of the show, delivering a 60-minute, almost non-stop monologue that veered from quiet, poignant insights to screaming exhortations.
But in marked contrast to the relentlessly pared-down simplicity that’s the trademark of a TED talk or a church sermon (and also, in the case of TED talks, a 20-minute time limit) the overly long script felt wildly uneven at times, veering from impassioned pleas to odd jokes to streaming recitations of facts that left the narrator out of breath. The overall effect was at first captivating, then tedious and finally even a little numbing.
There were, however, moments of quiet beauty, aided by Nathan Ruyle’s sparse musical interludes. Towards the 40-minute mark, the steadicam operators, having run out of new angles to shoot from, simply started dancing and twirling around, displaying their resulting swirling footage on the overhead screens. Paul Abacus gave a charismatic and compelling performance. A complete success? No, but definitely an impressive and ambitious work of experimental theater.
K.A. Laity’s review of ABACUS and more of the Filament Festival at Wombat’s World