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                 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 humanity slipping.


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 30..