By Eugene Paul
The most shattering, the most piercing
theatrical event in New York at the present time has just opened, right in the
teeth of the feverish voting season scene and it blows them all away. It is
Octet, the blazing chorale of musical magician Dave Malloy, the book, the
lyrics, the music, the vocal arrangements, fulfilled brilliantly by his superb
company of singing actors, twingingly delicate musical direction by Or Matias,
immutably staged by director Annie Tippe. Of course, the run has been extended.
Of course, it’s sold out – sharp New Yorkers are totally hip to the Signature
Center – and I’ll never forget it, even when the next feverish voting season
slides around a year from now. It couldn’t be simpler, eight people, eight
damaged humans, some chairs, a church basement meeting room, and wham, right in
the gut, generously funny, sure, cuttingly abrasive, sure, deeply touching,
sure, utterly beautiful.
Dave Malloy, Dave Malloy, Dave Malloy.
Yes, we saw him and heard him and admired him in his smash Broadway debut Natasha,
Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and interesting, interesting,
interesting slightly or more so goofball works , Ghost Quartet, Beardo,
Black Wizard Blue Wizard, his musicality emphatically his yet more, the
past and the future in the present. And he’s just a baby. What wonders will we
see…and hear…and feel… and learn…He’s the first resident composer/playwright at
the Signature. That means over the next five years he will produce and develop
three new works which will be fully supported. Hosanna.
Courtesy of keenly sympathetic set
designers Amy Rubin and Brittany Vasta we trudge through the shabby corridor of
St. Whoever’s church on our way to the usual meeting in the basement room of
the usual circle of addicts in their usual, wary, self protective confessionals
to each other, for each other with each other, reluctant, yet, ever willing.
But- there are only seven? We’ll start anyway. Paula (marvelous Starr Busby)
takes out her pitch pipe – do they all have pitch pipes? – and begins.
Shamefaced Velma (marvelous Kuhoo Verma) tries to hide her way to her chair,
late as usual.
photos by Joan Marcus
We’ve begun. The group, now in a
large circle, nobody carefully not in somebody else’s space, are drawing
together in the commonality of their place and voice as part of their hymnal.
Although their words they sing are not the customary words we find in hymnals
the tug of something as binding as religiosity infuses the room, a kind of mob
shaped unity of their differences. The invisible art of music magician Malloy
is already at work. So that when young Jessica (marvelous Margo Seibert)
volunteers to be the first to testify – because that is what each of them will
have to do, no matter how hard –her revelations slap us in the face, enough to
compel the rest of the group to chant ”refresh’, refresh, refresh” in soothing
harmony, for us and for Jessica.
It’s already clear that they’ve all
been victims of “the Monster”. And they are not alone. It’s soon as clear that
we, ourselves, have not escaped. Yes, we survived the Television Age, but what
do we find indispensible today? At our dining? Or even walking in the street?
Or in the car? Or at work?? Or just sitting around? But is that an addiction?
Try doing without the “Monster”. When Henry (marvelous Alex Gibson) testifies
to his addiction for “candy” which he finds by visiting the “Monster” every
day – as we all do – we’re uneasily aware that the “candy” he feels compelled
to ingest as often as he can in every flavor he can no matter what it’s doing
to him is unwise. So what? What’s wise? At this point, we all need to refresh
again. Already? Already. Because no one wants to be next.
And Paula, like every good team
leader, volunteers her turn. She, too, ,is captive of the blue glow, in bed at
night with her husband, in the otherwise dark, unable to reach the mate at
her very side, her vigil in the blue glow eerily familiar, strikingly
familiar.. How to “refresh” after…Director Annie Tippe knows her company needs
to change their patterns. It’s time. Even though we cannot move. The “Monster”
is in our minds, in our pockets, in our space.
(As a kind of benison, every word is
running within a small box over their heads and many of us are increasingly
aware that we feel we need to have them there because we cannot, we dare not
miss a syllable of the Malloy insights, even as the device underlines our
technical involvement with them. Just another simplicity to ease into. Just
another addiction. What’s the harm? We’re watching them, they’re not watching
us. And, after all, we do need to be closer, don’t we? Isn‘t that why we’re
here?) Costume designer Brenda Abbandandolo hasn’t missed a single clue in
dressing these come together isolated mortals. Christopher Bowser’s lighting,
Hidenori Nakajo’s sound compulsorily cooperative.
Ed (Adam Bashian), Karly (Kim Blanck),
Marvin (J.D.Mollison), Toby (Justin Gregory Lopez), all marvelous. Every
testified breakout we witness is frighteningly remarkable. Every one of them
is an ordinary person. These are just ordinary people. How can each of them
harbor such stories? Do all people have such vividness in them? Or is it Dave
Malloy who has created them, their insides, their outsides, in terribly
simple, terribly complicated wonderful music that we had to hear. And see. And
feel. Lighting up the dark. Their dark. Our dark. And gushings of doubly
impacting words that had to come out. Swept up as we are in times we find our
Octet. At the
Pershing Square Signature Center 480 West 42nd Street, at 10th Avenue. Tickets: $35. After June 11, $99. 100 Min. 212-244-7529. Thru June