OCTET at Berkeley Rep Finds the Humanity in Our Technology-Obsessed Culture

ByArlen Simpelo

May 4, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Octet is a single of the most bracingly first new musicals I have noticed in ages, and just one that speaks straight to the instances we’re at present dwelling in. It could be succinctly explained as an acapella musical about the deleterious effects of monitor technologies, which it most surely is, but it is seriously about a large amount extra than that. It finally paints a portrait of the lostness so many of us sense as we grapple to hook up with each and every other. And just after two a long time of COVID, who are unable to relate to that? Even though the display was penned pre-pandemic, it now feels a lot more pertinent than ever.

As the sole author of the tunes, lyrics, ebook and vocal preparations, Dave Malloy has concocted a interesting work that feels at once a little alien and oh-so-familiar. Observing it is not as opposed to the working experience of, say, seeing a group image you might be in and contemplating “Do we really seem like that?” Um, indeed, I am very certain we do. Malloy’s conceit drops us into a meeting of the “Close friends of Saul,” a kind of 12-stage method (er, make that an 8-move plan) for display screen addicts. Like most such groups, this 1 meets in what appears to be the basement of a church and draws a wide range of fairly lost souls seeking to defeat their addictions. As the team assembles, Paula, the interim facilitator filling in for an absent Saul, announces the get of business, which will consist of time for unique sharing interspersed with “hymns,” a little something she relatively off-handedly refers to as “Fugue Condition,” and the “Tower Tea Ceremony.” And for the upcoming 100 minutes, that is particularly what we get.

BWW Review: OCTET at Berkeley Rep Finds the Humanity in Our Technology-Obsessed Culture
J.D. Mollison as Marvin in Octet at Berkeley Rep

By means of the individual shares, we fulfill some quickly recognizable figures, these types of as Jessica, who is working with the blowback she’s gotten from a modern rant of hers that was surreptitiously captured on video clip and went viral. Karly and Ed are trying to navigate the complicated and possibly treacherous waters of the online courting scene. We also get to know Henry, a Sweet Crush addict who is so in excess of-keen to share and seems perpetually uncomfortable in his have pores and skin. (Consider a trip on MUNI or BART throughout rush hour and you are probable to come upon similar Sweet Crush fanatics.) And then there is Marvin, a committed atheist, who however trolls the world-wide-web for “scientific evidence” that God exists. Even though they include up to a type of neighborhood of displaced people today, Malloy would not consider an totally dim view of the purpose of technological innovation in their lives, as there is also Velma who marvels at her means to link with a young female midway all-around the environment.

While I am not confident the overall arc of the present fully works, it does have many issues likely for it that make it extraordinarily powerful. 1st, it is a wholly primary musical, not in any way based mostly on an current operate know so we can not anticipate in which it can be likely. 2nd, it pretty much gives primacy to human voice, as the only appears we hear are human-made, other than a recurrent pitch pipe which commences each quantity. And third, it explores existential issues of relationship, dislocation and spirituality that we all grapple with in our day to day life. I are not able to try to remember the very last time I observed a musical that held up this sort of a shut mirror to the entire world we really stay in.

It also can help enormously that Octet gets a pitch-excellent (sorry!) creation at Berkeley Rep. Amy Rubin and Brittany Vasta’s set would involve an complete review of its individual to do comprehensive justice to its on-the-cash degree of element. It calls to head each multipurpose place in each church in The usa, with its faux-parquet flooring, pool-table green carpet, undersized pale pastel “stained glass” home windows, worn folding chairs of two marginally unique vintages and overhead fluorescent lighting. It felt so reliable I could virtually scent the Hawaiian Punch that I was confident was currently being doled out by some unseen church women in an adjacent room. And even however it is a unit established, Christopher Bowser’s ingenious lighting sooner or later displays it has a ton of methods up its sleeve as we pay a visit to a selection of spots, some imaginary and some not. Brenda Abbandandolo’s costumes are equally adroit. A single of the most difficult problems for a costumer can be to design and style unshowy, modern day streetwear that provides us data about the people, and Abbandandolo nails it. As just one particular example, Paula’s understated, silky burgundy shirt and fawn slacks instantly mark her as the facilitator of the team.

Annie Tippe’s delicate path is certainly location-on, under no circumstances contacting focus to itself. This is certainly an ensemble exhibit, so a one fake transfer by everyone can toss the full factor off harmony, and that hardly ever happens here. Every person in the cast is a capable actor and vocalist, recognizing just how significantly to just take their massive solos devoid of showboating or losing their perception of character, and then deftly receding again into the team as they deliver track record vocals for the following selection. In a uniformly superb forged of 8, I have to give a specific shout-out to Isabel Santiago as facilitator Paula, with her best stability of welcoming excellent cheer and ever-so-slightly unnerving chilliness. Alex Gibson is also a total delight as Henry, the introvert who just simply cannot wait for his probability to share, and dances with this kind of gleeful abandon even as he would seem awkward in his own system. This is not to slight the other actors, all great, who for the record are Adam Bashian, Kim Blanck, Justin Gregory Lopez, J.D. Mollison, Margo Seibert and Kuhoo Verma.

All eight actors are responsible for making the factor that eventually brought me the most satisfaction, which is the pure sound of the human voice. It is this sort of a unusual matter in modern more than-amped globe that when an actor moves onstage, their voice moves with them. What a joy it was, in the personal confines of the Peet’s Theatre, to hear the audio of their harmonies reaching my ears with only the barest trace of amplification. And individuals harmonies have been perfection – intricate and juicy, layered earlier mentioned a deep basis delivered by the resonant bass voices of Bashian and Gibson. There is an personal link that can arise only when sound leaves an actor’s throat and enters an viewers member’s photo voltaic plexus, producing its very own vibration there, human to human. As a great deal as I have savored some of the virtual theater I’ve seasoned above the previous two several years, this simple, unmediated transmission of vibration from actor to audience is the solitary point I have skipped the most. It can only occur when we’re all sharing the same area, the exact same air, and Octet delivers it in spades.

(all photos by Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre)

Octet operates through Sunday May perhaps 29th at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley, CA. Running time is around 100 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and additional data, check out www.berkeleyrep.org or get in touch with 510-647-2949.