Adventures in Hi-Fi

Digital Kills the Radio Star


Of Screen and Stage

Interactive theater?" someone asks. "I know what that is— people running around in front of a film, right?" Well, the running part is optional.

Usually, with "multimedia" theater, you can count on seeing striking film footage but rubber-hammer drama: for every beautiful shot, there's an actor standing on stage looking like he'd rather be doing the voice-over. And you'd rather be fast-forwarding through it all.

But the city is also rife with more enlivening fare, and slowly, computer-aided multimedia theater is gaining audiences, if not legitimacy. At places like Postmasters Gallery, HERE, and The Kitchen, you can see a soap opera starring laptops or a virtual MUD environment physically acted out. Some productions are just capitalizing on Internet hype. Others— the interesting ones— have technology on the brain (like many of us), and theater is their defense mechanism.

AbacusParts falls into the latter category. The show, which debuted last week and runs through Saturday at the Galapagos Bar in Williamsburg, is a loose and somewhat patchy commentary on the flattening effects of all our gizmos— scanners, CU-SeeMe cameras, screens, even programming itself. The effects are simple but creative. An actress stands on a chair bolted to the wall five feet off the ground and scans herself with a handheld device. The output image, horrifically bloated and disfigured, pours out on the wall behind her.

There are lots of good ideas in AbacusParts, and the directors Romy Achituv and Danielle Wilde are talented filmmakers. The show's most arresting moments are the first ones, in which the audience watches digitally manipulated footage of three tightrope walkers balancing on one another, suspended dizzyingly in the air. (Then you realize they are, in fact, lying on the ground.)

The trouble is keeping the "multi" part of the media unified enough to make it theater. Sure, it's intriguing to have a child character speak her lines in the Lingo programming language for Macromedia's Director, chanting out "If blue sprite interacts green sprite, then.. . . " But how do you separate what is a commentary on flatness from what is just plain flat?

The sneaking suspicion with AbacusParts is that, though technology is the subject, film is still the star. In last week's show, there's a moment when a woman sits in a chair and tells a story of her encounters with her mother who has Alzheimer's. She is meanwhile being filmed, and a tight close-up of her face is blasted up on the wall behind her. As a viewer, you're given a difficult decision: do you look at the actress or her giant mug on the wall? It's a choice most people will have made long before getting to the theater. If they make it there at all.

e-mail: abunn@villagevoice.com

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