“Octopus” – Stray Cat Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ April 4, 2011


Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center
Tempe, AZ

The importance of love and its fragility in relationships are graphically portrayed by two gay couples in the Stray Cat Theatre production of “Octopus.” To say this play is intense, though, is understatement as the play bludgeons its ideas in such a blatant manner that it is bound to turn theatergoers off.

The Stray Cat production, while creatively staged by Ron May except in one critical scene, is disappointedly acted. The two couples haven’t the slightest romantic spark for their partners. Like the play, the acting is intense but the performers completely forget the critical importance of establishing a believable and committed relationship with their partners.

The couples met at a gay bar and agree to a joint sexual tryst. Prior to the meeting, Kevin and Blake discuss Blake’s concerns that group sex may harm their relationship even though Kevin pushed for the liaison. When the couples meet, Kevin and Blake are initially reserved while Andy and Max are anxious. Blake, initially the most hesitant, sparks to enjoy the experience while Kevin becomes more interested in watching than participating. Later, Andy disappears ultimately to be killed by a sea monster. Max, shattered by Andy’s departure, reveals to Kevin that Andy had AIDS. Blake may or may not have the disease as the pair’s relationship changes negatively.

Steve Yockey’s play is full of overbearingly blunt symbolism. It’s also full of cheap gimmicks that clutter and confuse but don’t benefit the theme. A Telegram Delivery Boy brings messages that add explosive drama and further complexity but no real purpose. Water gets dumped around the set to simulate Andy’s demise as the actors flail and splash around. There’s also much nudity as the four men go at it.

May’s staging takes full advantage of the play’s theatricality and the quartet of actors – Jonathan Brian Furedy’s Kevin, Eric Boudreau’s Blake, David Weiss’ Andy, and Ian Christiansen’s Max – bring the play’s intensity to vibrant life. It’s a shame, though, that neither couple ever really seems to care for or love their partner even though the dialogue suggests the importance of that characteristic. May stages the group sex scene awkwardly so that realizing Kevin’s reaction and understanding Blake’s infatuation isn’t sensed. It should be an outgrowth of the scene.

“Octopus’” message, the fragile importance of love in relationships and how the slightest indulgence can ruin the delicate romantic balance, is valid and important, but the way the playwright obscures and dilutes his message with gimmicks and heavy-handed symbolism clouds “Octopus.”  The production, fine in intensity, but lacking in establishing true relationships between the partners, is only half there.

“Octopus” Continues through April 9. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or order online at www.straycattheatre.org.

Grade: D