Despite the incredibly long title, The National Theater of the United States' Abacus Black Strikes Now!: The Rampant Justice of Abacus Black, started off great. In extremely dim light, a man in ruffled, romantic Goth-antique clothing burst on stage lit only by a small, bright light which he carried and shone up under his chin hinting of a campfire ghost.
As he spoke, the audience was transported back to childhood experiences of theater. It was thrilling, riveting, and magical. As we listened to this ghoulish apparition lament the dangers outside the theater (mostly zombies), deciding whether or not we trusted this spooky speaker, other figures emerged from a large, lumpy package at the center of the stage. Suddenly, lights flashed, music played and the central, bulky mass was uncovered and converted, through an intricate dance number/ magic act, into a tiny, perfect proscenium stage, complete with miniature footlights. It was a fantastic transformation that elicited spontaneous applause several times throughout the process.
After this fantastic opening, the piece, like its arduous title, got lost in a complicated story of a knight (Abacus Black) on a quest for a golden city. The cultish followers of the now over 600-year-old Black retold the story of his original quest in a series of tableaux that started out quite humorous and ended up quite tedious. While some interesting explorations were begun in these sections -- religious fervor, quest for unattainable, the chosen-one syndrome -- the piece never regained the power, pizzazz, and clarity of the opening section and, and slowly but surely it lost our interest.
The piece did revive itself towards the end with another song and a funny series of zombie bites, but it ultimately ended in a muddle, and we were left feeling a bit confused. The opening section showed such promise, that we were also left feeling somewhat disappointed, yet hopeful that with a bit more focus and editing, our next meeting with NTUSA will deliver from curtain to curtain. - Sarah Max
150 First Ave (At 9th Street)
New York City
Through February 12: Wed - Sat @ 8:30pm / Sat & Sun @ 4:30pm
Ms. Maxfield is the co-founder and artistic director of Red Metal Mailbox, a New-York based company dedicated to creating investigative works of theater by linking original text with a highly physical aesthetic. In addition to directing and performing with RMM, Sarah works a day job in arts administration and occasionally writes about performance.