I Have Screensavered the Forest

The premise of Dave Malloy’s Octet is terrific.  Staged as an Alcoholics Anonymous-style meeting for device addicts, a group of strangers congregate to share stories of their technological woes through song.  Jessica (Margo Seibert) admits she is the star of a viral video, “white woman goes crazy,” while Henry (Alex Gibson) cannot break the hypnotic siren song of candy-based games.  Paula (Starr Busby), who leads the group, spends her evenings in bed with her husband, also an addict, wrecking her sleep with the “the stale, pale glow” of screens.

In both form and content, Octet is a rejection of our collective addiction to the instant but shallow gratification of new media.  This “chamber musical” is pointedly low-tech: all the songs are sung a cappella while the blocking is minimal.  In fact, the production relies on little more than the actors’ voices.  At its best, then, Octet embodies the very critique it is making.

Unfortunately, however, Malloy doesn’t know where to go with this material, and the structure soon becomes tiresome, monotonous.  A character stands up, sings his or her song, then sits down.  Another character follows.  When all eight have sung, the show is over.  In this, Octet bears an odd resemblance to Cats; it strikes me as closer to a concert than a fully-realized drama.  And while the work is not quite as pointless as Webber’s, it suffers from a similar lack of cohesion.  There is, I think, a worthwhile musical somewhere in here.  Malloy just hasn’t found it.

Octet runs through June 30th at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre.  480 W. 42nd Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 40 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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