According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

An Octopus Love Story

There's something fishy about the set-up and resolution of An Octopus Love Story, but the questions it raises about gender identity are a real winner.

Jane (Kelli Holsopple) drinks to a disturbing publicity stunt suggested by her live-in lover Tosh (Jenny Greer).
Photo/Mike Klar

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

Delaney Britt Brewer's new play, An Octopus Love Story, is like the difference between good sushi and bad. The good moments--which far outnumber the bad--are filled with witty characters and comic situations (the guy who hits on his co-worker only to find out she's a lesbian), and great new descriptions for depression: "This city is so sharp, sometimes I feel like I'm slashing my wrists just to hail a cab." The bad moments are just a result of straining the suction cups of the story until they cannot help but slip up. The titular anecdote about a lovestruck octopus is charming, but makes the play too much of an anti-Little Mermaid, just like Brian Sidney Bembridge's fish-tank of a set, which might work if it weren't sunk in metaphor (there's also the "people who live in glass houses" parable). On their own, the text and scenes are fine, albeit a little melodramatic, and the cast goes a long way toward keeping the focus on Brewer's language, rather than her metaphor.

After an excisable although enjoyable opening scene that introduces us to the closeted lesbian, Jane (to the chagrin of her co-worker, Marc [Eric Kuehnemann]), the play gets to the point as Tosh, Jane's live-in lover (and publicist) convinces her to marry Danny (Josh Tyson), a gay man, as a way of protesting marriage. What's interesting here, and where that fishy metaphor comes back to haunt us, is that Jane and Danny actually fall in love: Jane, as likable as she is neurotic, and Danny, a sweet, charming, Rock Hudson-quoting gentleman. Brewer gives us both sides of the story first when Mr. Gardner (a perfectly unsettling Andrew Dawson) shows up to interview them for what he calls a "mom and pop" magazine, but which is actually a subversive right-wing attack on their campaign, and then later when Danny's best friend, Alex (Michael Cyril Creighton) tries to win him back. So can you change who you are? Should you? Are we even what we say we are, think we are, actually are?

It's fitting that the scene changes are accompanied by light lounge music, because that's more or less how these questions are addressed--lightly. It's also why the plot slips further and further as the play continues. It isn't necessary for Tosh to have an affair to make Danny and Jane connect: they're already getting married. It does, however, make for a tearful bit of karaoke courtesy of Sir Elton John. It's obvious that Alex loves Danny from the subtler first act: the long monologue about a long-past bicycling accident just lets Creighton play a drunk. The one subplot that works is Jane's confession to her mother-in-law, Kathy, that she is lesbian, and it's a moment carried entirely by Krista Sutton, who makes more out Kathy than just a kooky Texan.

An Octopus Love Story may not be raw enough to make for good sushi: some of the characters are too thinly cut to seem attached, and the disconnected set and over-garnished subplots hold the show back. But the texture of a good play about gender identity--and more importantly, the taste of a rising playwright still establishing her style--makes this show worth sampling.

Center Stage (48 West 21st Street, Fourth Floor)

Tickets (212-868-4444): $18.00
Performances (through 5/20): Wed. - Sat. @ 8:00 | Sun. @ 3:00

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