With “Motherboard,” a dynamic post-apocalyptic thriller from Antimatter Collective, writer and fight choreographer Adam Scott Mazer seems to achieve what he wanted: to create an R-rated “action” play with a few gestures toward big ideas about human nature and our swiftly tilting technology. However, in the midst of his thrilling fight scenes, Mazer loses sight of these larger themes. Maybe, like me, he had his vision obscured by blood splatter.
Briskly directed by Will Fulton, the play transports us to the year 2465, in the aftermath of a 20-year war between man and sentient machines. Eventually, the robots self-deactivated with no explanation, leaving the remaining humans to live either as thralls of a militarized government or as near-savages scavenging through the radioactive wastelands. At rise, we are privy to a routine disassembly of an unremarkable “nanny-bot” named C-12 (Rebecca Hirota), who surprisingly reactivates. Abraham, an austere military captain played resolutely by Casey Robinson, fears she may be the first in a new wave of robotic attacks. That C-12, upon awakening, tore off one of Abraham’s arms in a ghastly attack might also have something to do with it.
The program credits the copious amounts of gore to Stephanie Cox-Williams, who previously created the cringe-worthy zombie effects for Mazer’s fantastic play “Death Valley.” Within the confines of that gut-wrenching zombie/cowboy story, Cox-Williams’ dangling entrails felt right at home; but in a somber tale of post-nuclear America, the squirting wounds are occasionally comedic. The trappings of Mazer’s future landscape—Bevan Dunbar and Karen Boyer’s apocalypse-chic costumes and Jonathan Collins’ set built from repurposed junk—owe a lot to films like “The Road Warrior,” most of which are admittedly exceedingly gory. And sure, the multi-sensory texture of hearing a gunshot and then feeling the character’s blood spritz across your face may be good for a jolt, but the shock makes it difficult to process emotionally. Perhaps the confusion is Mazer’s point – but what good does it do when disconnected audience members care more about their ruined shoes than the recently deceased character?
And there are characters to care about. Hirota’s precise portrayal of C-12 is sometimes chilly and mechanical, sometimes oozing with preprogrammed maternal warmth and sometimes, hilariously, she simply “buffers,” but even then Hirota’s gears are always turning. Along the way, she encounters future-slang spewing humans of every stratum, from two radiation-poisoned S&M savages (embodied with sizzle by Allison Laplatney and Bryce Henry), to a technology-obsessed woman-child named Penelope and her brusque caretaker, Ned, played well by Elizabeth Bays and Andrew Krug, respectively.
Mazer realizes the fight sequence at the story’s climax superbly, but even it feels like a missed opportunity. Soldier and robot alike are dismembered and fire off round after round of ammunition while a sleeping infant in the room doesn’t make a peep? Since C-12 is a machine programed to care for human infants, I was let down that this fight didn’t hinge on the safety of the baby. Or maybe I’m still just miffed about my shoes.
Presented by Antimatter Collective at The Secret Theatre, 4402 23rd St., Queens. Sept. 28–Oct. 14.
(800) 838-3006 or motherboard.brownpapertickets.com.
Critic’s Score: B-