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Off-Broadway Review: “Octet” in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Though Sunday June 30, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “Octet” in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Though Sunday June 30, 2019)
Music, Lyrics, Book, and Vocal Arrangements by Dave Malloy
Directed by Annie Tippe
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts in Dave Malloy’s a cappela musical “Octet” currently playing in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center. A group of eight “addicts” meets regularly (summoned by the mysterious Saul) to share the dynamics of their various addictions, hoping to achieve the recovery attainable through the support and encouragement typically found in similar twelve-step programs. They hold their meetings in a drab church basement, setting up a circle of chairs to replace the church’s Bingo paraphernalia. “Against the wall” of Amy Rubin and Brittany Vasta’s impressive set “is a stack of chairs, an old piano, a cabinet, and a table with a coffee maker, electric kettle, and Styrofoam cups. A pile of old broken electronics gathers dust in the corner. A small wooden box sits near the door.” Like the eccentricities of the group members’ addictions, the paraphernalia in the basement seem immutable.

While some of the addictions rehearsed are readily recognizable and make strong connections to the audience members (ego surfing, dating apps, dieting apps), others like Velma’s (Kuhoo Verma) arcane references to Tarot and other addictive and destructive online spirituality communities become elitist and pretentious. Equally obscure is Toby’s (Justin Gregory Lopez) protracted thread on intelligence and the evolution of humanity (and himself). There are times when some of the threads seem without any meaningful content and become, unfortunately, lost on the audience.

Dave Malloy’s music is exquisite in every way reflecting various styles composed and arranged with tight harmonies that support Malloy’s lyrics. As previously mentioned, the individual threads highlighting a variety of digital/binary addictions are not as strong as the communal “Hymns,” the “Fugue State” closing Part One, and the “Tower Tea Ceremony” in Part Two.

Under Annie Tippe’s direction, the eight-member cast moves – sometimes almost miraculously – around the set with Jungian synchronicity and the grace displayed in synchronized swimming. There are so many detailed and repetitive moves and notes and sounds that it is remarkable the members of the cast are never in the wrong place at the wrong time or ticking off binary beats in the wrong dimension. Whether battling OCD or obsession with self or conspiratorial constructs, these actors’ characters are believable and reflect authentic struggles with “mass media opiate haze” and “content overstimulation” and “dopamine desensitization.”

Aided by what group facilitator Paula (Starr Busby) describes as “a powerful group psychedelic that induces a 5-minute coma, in which your consciousness is transported back to its original, pure, pre-technological limbic state,” the group emerges from “The Tower Tea Ceremony” having found “something they needed for their journey.” Or did they? And why doesn’t Velma imbibe? And how does she discover she is “beautiful” without falling into unconsciousness? Find out, perhaps, by listening to her song “Beautiful” and the final “Hymn: The Field.”

Kudos to Adam Bashian as Jim, Kim Blanck as Karly, Starr Busby as Paula, Alex Gibson as Peter, Justin Gregory Lopez as Toby, J.D. Mollison as Marvin, Margo Siebert as Jessica, and Kuhoo Verma as Velma for grappling with this new way of “working a script.”

OCTET

The cast of “Octet” includes Adam Bashian as Jim, Kim Blanck as Karly, Starr Busby as Paula, Alex Gibson as Peter, Justin Gregory Lopez as Toby, J.D. Mollison as Marvin, Margo Siebert as Jessica, and Kuhoo Verma as Velma. The cast also includes Jonathan Christopher and Nicole Weiss.

The creative team includes Or Matias (Music Director), Marisa Michaelson (Vocal Coach), Amy Rubin & Brittany Vasta (Scenic Design), Brenda Abbandandolo (Costume Design), Christopher Bowser (Lighting Design), and Hidenori Nakajo (Sound Design). The Production Stage Manager is Jhanaë Bonnick and Casting is by NAME.

“Octet” runs through June 30, 2019 in The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.signaturetheatre.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: The Cast of “Octet” by Dave Malloy and directed by Annie Tippe. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 6, 2019