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Octopus

a World Premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Steve Yockey

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 2678

SHOWING : January 25, 2008 - February 23, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A love story rendered through a post-modern gay lens, Octopus examines the fallout of one lustful night on four men; including risk, jealousy, a mysterious telegram delivery boy and a ravenous sea monster from the ocean floor.


CAST & CREW LIST
Playwrite Steve Yockey
Fight Coreographer Stephen Scarborough
Director Kate Warner
Props Master Elisabeth Cooper
Lighting & Sound Designer Joseph P. Monaghan III
Andy Mitchell Anderson
Max John Benzinger
Telegram Delivery Boy Brian Crawford
Blake Tony Larkin
Kevin J. Joe Sykes
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Forewarned
by Dedalus
Thursday, February 21, 2008
3.0
Steve Yockey’s “Octopus,” currently on tap at Actor’s Express, is a vibrantly alive, innovative, and quintessentially theatrical experience, complete with a tantalizing combination of realism and allegory, clever direction and design, wowza effects and speeches, and all the dangly bits common to full-frontal male nudity.

So, why did I leave the theatre with a “been-there, seen-that” feeling?

I think the core of the problem may have been the central performance by Joe Sykes. He struck me as a very bland pretty-boy actor playing a very bland pretty-boy character. He may have been having an off-night, but I found his deliveries to be monochromatic and lifeless, and his emotional range shallow. As such, I wasn’t able to make a connection with his character, which meant I was very conscious of the warmed-over “Angels in America” plotline (What, you’re sick? I’m outahere …), the too-coy refusal to say the word “AIDS” (What is the point of that anyway? If “Silence = Death”, these characters should be shouting it from the rooftops), the heavy-handed symbolism (Facing Death = Facing Sea Monsters? It makes my English Major senses tingle), and the contrivances of Mr. Sykes’ “character arc” – (I wanna party with other guys – oops, you liked it too much – oops, you may be sick and I’ll have to leave you – oops, maybe I love you after all).

Before I tromp all over this play with my judgment boots, though, let me say it started off with a bang. The initial scene establishing the relationship between Mr. Sykes’ character (Kevin) and his companion, Blake (Tony Larkin), and the set-up to the “party” with Max and Andy (John Bensinger and Mitchell Anderson) was funny, realistic, and awkward all at the same time. But, in the aftermath, Mr. Sykes’ reversal to jealous nag was unconvincing and downright irritating.

Then, with the arrival of the Delivery Boy, allegory mode kicked in, and my interest picked up considerably (aside from the fact that the telegrams were a bit … well, did anyone research what telegrams actually looked like?). And, overall, Mr. Yockey’s dialogue is clever, poetic, and a joy to hear.

Unfortunately, with “Allegory Mode,” the play focused on Kevin’s journey, and, apart from a nicely theatrical monologue “from the bottom of the sea” by Mr. Anderson, Mr. Sykes dragged the energy of the endeavor lower than the playwright’s metaphor. I was much too aware of actors jumping through the playwright’s hoops rather than seeing them create believable portraits of real humans. By the time Kevin and the Delivery Boy were splashing around the water-logged set, I just didn’t care anymore. And, Kevin's final declaration of love for Blake, which should have been emotionally moving, seemed contrived and unconvincing.

To be fair, I also loved the look of the play - blue lights and transluscent walls carried a lot of the metaphorical water weight, and the “Under the Sea” interlude was a joy to watch and comprehend. Kate Warner's direction was up to its usual high standards, and the sound design and musical choices were inspired, and an asset to the production. And, to be honest, the audience I was with seemed to respond a lot more favorably than I did.

All this being said, there are some good ideas on display here, some very good writing (“used” plot aside), and I can’t NOT recommend this show. The supporting performances were all good, especially Mr. Larkin’s aw-shucks innocence in the first scene and the interplay between Mr. Bensinger and Mr. Anderson. But the narrow range of Mr. Sykes made this particular performance more of a chore than a pleasure. It’s somehow fitting that, according to his bio, I’ve seen him in several shows before, but, for the life of me, I can’t bring any of his performances or characters to mind.

So, as I said, I recommend you see this. But, consider yourself forewarned. And we all know that “Forewarned is Forearmed”, (which, if you have a taste for wordplay, is only half an Octopus).

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Postscript – I had a nice conversation with Actors Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley before the show, and I couldn’t help but enjoy his contagious enthusiasm, not only for this venue, but for the Actors Express mission. Like him, I too think it’s important to stage new works and nurture local playwrights. If my comments here seem harsh (and, I suppose, to Mr. Sykes and his friends, they are), it’s only because I want this sort of production to succeed. Although last night’s (2/13/08) crowd was small (mid-week cold-snap appropriate), Mr. Ashley was encouraged that many shows are selling out. He dropped some wonderful hints about next season (which I promised not to share), and I wish him, and Actors Express, all the success in the world. And, before basing your decision to see “Octopus” on my own lukewarm response, please take my comments with these grains of salt – My day job requires me to get up at 4:00 AM, which makes most mid-week performances after my bed time, and my objections here are all performance-based, surely the most subjective of all standards.

As a final note, this script has been translated from the original Cetacean, so you don’t have to brush up on your whale-song to enjoy it.

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Caution: Slippery When Wet!
by Eye4Talent
Saturday, January 26, 2008
4.5
I was privileged to be a member of the very first audience to see Steve Yockey’s OCTOPUS at Actor’s Express.

As artists, our work is always a reflection of our personal experiences and our perspective of the world. Anyone who has ever either been diagnosed, or has had a loved one diagnosed, with a life threatening disease can relate to the experience of the characters of OCTOPUS. While I understand an artist’s need to purge the profound emotion that is generated by such an experience, I have to say that I am kind of bored by the “AIDS plays.” Ironically, it’s kind of like the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ; no matter how many twists you add or how great your special effects, it’s still the same grisly story, but because we’ve seen it over and over again, we become so anesthetized to it that it’s almost like watching a Jello commercial. The saving grace with this show, though, is that it doesn’t explore the actual ravages of illness as I expected when the conflict of the tale was revealed, but the intellectual journey that people travel and the evolution of their relationships when “testing positive” enters the picture. This story is powerfully told through an interesting and creative metaphor of the lonely, weary warrior’s decent into the murky depths to face a mysterious and terrifying sea creature while the villagers at home are left to deal with their own fears and the uncertainty of whether or not their hero will return home or perish.

Mitchell Anderson (Andy) has the most predictable role in the show. Upon being diagnosed, he isolates himself and mourns his situation. Although he delivers his monologue with appropriate emotion and drama, the complexity, flowery language and sheer length of the metaphor almost made me forget what he was talking about by the end of it. At the risk of sounding like a simpleton, I’ll admit that this is the same reason I much prefer reading Shakespeare’s work to watching it; I need to go back and read some lines a few times before I really get it. Mr. Anderson would probably be an excellent Shakespearean actor. Yes, that was supposed to be a compliment.

John Benzinger (Max) is the most natural actor in this show. In the opening scene, I almost felt like I was intruding on something I wasn’t supposed to see. He oozes sexuality as orchestrates the awkward, second meeting of two gay couples into an orgy. Throughout the rest of the show, he flips back and forth from very laid back and real to manic and out of his mind with equal believability. Max’s “relationship” with the water is so complex and layered that I kept wondering whether he would do the backstroke, drown himself in it or make Kool-Aid cocktails with it. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I want to hang out with this guy.

The role of the Telegram Delivery Boy, played by Brian Crawford, is such a striking and surreal contrast to the rest of the characters. Mr. Crawford’s annoyingly polite and cheerful Delivery Boy from Another Planet is brilliant. And, in the final scene, when he finally lets his mask slip a little bit and the magnitude of the messages he delivers washes over the audience, there is a collective squirm of discomfort with the realization that he is the tangible representative of death itself.

Tony Larkin (Blake) seemed to be an actor who is still learning. For the most part, I enjoyed his performance, but I was always aware that I was watching Tony acting like Blake. Not to say that he wasn’t pretty convincing, but his dialogue still sounded like dialogue. The style of writing is such that the characters continually interrupt themselves with new thoughts, however, I never really saw Blake’s “ah-ha” moments. Thus, the words still sounded like lines that were memorized rather than a spontaneous conversation. The step from being a good actor to being a great actor is when one stops acting how he thinks his character would act and he acts because he is his character. Some actors never make that leap. Mr. Larkin will, and I look forward to watching him do it.

Joe Sykes (Kevin) had the biggest challenge and opportunity to gain the audience’s sympathy. In the first half of the show, he had some of the same problems as Mr. Larkin in that his dialogue didn’t sound natural enough to really pull me in. Add to it the selfish and callous reaction that Kevin has to the realization that his lover could have contracted that dreaded virus (one that they never actually call by name in the show), and it’s hard to feel any connection to him. But, little by little, Sykes seemed to ease into his character, and so when he finally has his big “ah-ha” moment, I was surprised by the empathy I had developed for him.

Overall, the technical aspects of OCTOPUS were very impressive. Kate Warner’s direction made it obvious that she really understood the weight and vastness of the subject matter and the way the water was incorporated was almost perfect. My only complaint is that when the water finally finds its way into the Kevin and Blake’s apartment, it was almost a little wimpy. It just felt like there needed to be much more of it, especially with the last wave. However, to fill that volume of space in such a short amount of time would be a monumental task. Also, with the drought that Atlanta is facing, in the spirit of “going green,” I can easily forgive that little disappointment.

The set, sound and lighting design were straight forward and effective. The flow of color, shape and sound accentuated the theme of the show very well. There seemed to be a few lighting mishaps, which I’m sure were just opening night bugs. With all the things that could go wrong when you mix many, many electrical components with lots of free flowing water, a couple of minor missed light cues are almost a welcome blessing! The costumes looked like a cross section taken from any gay bar in Atlanta, so the contrast to the other worldly look of the delivery boy’s uniform was startling…just the way it should have been.

Although I felt like the nude scene went just a little bit over the top (I prefer to leave a little bit more to the imagination), let’s face it, sex sells, and as the word spreads, empty seats for this show will be hard to find. OCTOPUS is another high quality, edgy production; the likes of which we have come to expect from Actor’s Express. Opening night was a sold out show, and I am pretty sure that it was only the first of many!
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