Something that’s really great about pursuing a future life in theatre as a playwright is that I go see a lot of theatre. New theatre is an especially interesting experience for both the play’s developers and audience members and I can’t stress enough just how important it is to support new works. There’s no such thing as seeing too many plays and as of late I’ve been lucky enough to catch two really outstanding productions:

Cleveland Public Theatre’s original work, “Cut to Pieces” begins as a classic scenario found in the best of horror movies: a different cast of characters find themselves in a dark, spooky mansion that may or may not be haunted. The story however, soon spirals into a much more epic, enticing story. Oh, and did I mention the kicker? It’s a one-woman performance. Actress Chris Seibert plays the entire cast. Doubts? Don’t. It was beautiful.

The show’s creators Raymond Bobgan and Chris Seibert crafted a dynamic, powerful journey of one woman’s self-exploration that used every possible form of video technology one can imagine without ever overdoing it or bombarding the audience with uncontrollable media, a common fault among many new “media performances.” Embellished with intriguing subplots (including a reimagining of the Persephone myth and the beautifully tragic story of a local witch), new theatrical conventions, and top of the line acting from Seibert, “Cut to Pieces” will not soon be forgotten. I’ve never experienced a theatrical event that could cause the hair on my arms to stand up in terror while bringing honest, sincere tears to my eyes.

Steve Yockey’s “Octopus” at the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis was a very welcomed surprise. With “Octopus”, the theatre delivered on all cylinders.

Because of the type of play it is, I don’t want to reveal plot, but Yockey takes a traditional story (same may even say cliche’) involving two gay couples and crafts new and magical ways of presenting the story. Yockey’s script flows with comedy and quick dialogue overlaps with ease (handled quite expertly by both Jason Gloye and Ben Snyder) The play has a nice sense of realistic dialogue that still has the heightened level of theatricality that audiences need to be satisfied.

One of my favorite parts about “Octopus” (both the production and the writing) is the direct confrontation with the magical forces at work. In most contemporary drama (remember, I read a LOT of new plays), writers try to leave their magical interjections as symbols, metaphors and images without having characters address the “abstract” in the actual story. “Octopus” has its characters directly questioning why there are mysterious telegrams from the deep (ominously brought to life by actor Scott Greenwell), why friends are disappearing and why they’re being told Andy has gone to live at the bottom of the ocean.

Also, the special effects at work on the Phoenix stage are mesmerizing and in the play’s climax, it’s difficult to keep your mouth closed; jaw-dropping fun and effects are in store.

Even though there is a long, mid-show monologue (pictured above) that normally seems like a forced attempt at emotional button-pushing, Yockey manages to carefully navigate the waters (pun intended) and grip us at our (simultaneously beautiful and disgusting) human core. Ricardo Melendez as Andy handles the language with ease and finesse, allowing the monologue to flow like lucid beat poetry.

The only desire I had was to see and understand the character of Max with a bit more complexity than Nate Walden was able to deliver. He begins as the strongest actor of the bunch, bringing a ferocious, subtle rumbling to the confident and sexual Max. However, when relationship lines are blurred and Max begins feeling the consequences and troubles with losing friends and lovers, Walden falls short. A beautiful moment in the latter half of the play involving Max’s fears and desires never reaches its full potential of heart-wrenching sadness and repulsive humanity intended by the words of the playwright.

“Octopus” reminds me of the type of theatre that needs to be created among new theatre writers. I’d even venture to say new writers attempting to tackle gay-themes.

In a post-modern world where “it’s all been done before”, magic realism, with all its quirkiness and power, has a very important place. And both “Cut to Pieces” and “Octopus” prove this to be true.

It’s performances like both “Cut to Pieces” and “Octopus” that keep that fire lit under my ass as a new writer.

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