The brilliant musical talent Dave Malloy (“Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812”) realized a few years ago that he was spending too much time on the internet. So, he decided to write a show about it (music, lyrics, book, and vocal arrangement). And the result is “Octet,” a creative, contemporary, melodic, funny, and sad “a capella” chamber opera for eight voices, which pierces a stake into the heart of the net, song by glorious song. I was so entranced with “Octet” that I wished there were more than 90 minutes of it to enjoy. (See excerpts from Emily’s interview w/Malloy here.)
In “Octet,” eight internet addicts meet in a weekly support group to share their dependencies and obsessions. Each super-talented participant testifies through song, with accompaniment by the others. The lyrics are ingenious and extensive, such that reading them online is helpful before the performance and a pleasure afterward. And although this is primarily a musical production, with Annie Tippe’s able direction, there is wonderfully dynamic acting and stage direction to keep things moving.
Each support group member has become victim of a different slice of the internet’s special hell. There’s Jessica (Margo Seibert sings “Refresh”), whose life was ruined by a “white woman goes crazy” video that became a meme. Poor Henry (“Candy” by Alex Gibson) can’t stop playing Candy Crush and goes unwashed for days. In the song, “Solo,” Karly (Kim Blanck) and Ed (Adam Bashian) sing about the inhumane and inhuman single life experienced through dating apps. Velma (Kuhoo Verma) sings a beautiful solo, appropriately titled “Beautiful,” that left the audience speechless.
The perfect setting for “Octet” is the shabby church basement of the E. Goostman Faith Center, with detritus including an original Macintosh and a copy of an old Judy Collins Songbook (Amy Rubin and Brittany Vasta, co-scenic designers). Left uncertain are references to the mysterious, unseen Saul, who apparently started the group and may have some supernatural or super-computer talents.
This West Coast premiere of Octet follows its world premiere at New York’s Signature Theatre Company, where three-time Tony Award nominee Dave Malloy is resident playwright.
Octet runs through May 29, 2022. It’s 90 minutes long, with no intermission. Proof of vaccination and mask-wearing are required. Tickets, $29-$159, subject to change, can be purchased online at www.berkeleyrep.org or by phone at 510 647-2949.
This article originally appeared on Berkeleyside.
By Emily S. Mendel
© Emily S. Mendel 2022 All Rights Reserved