LOU’S VIEWS: Must-sea Phoenix drama

Many plays have metaphors tucked deep inside them. Others have their metaphors just below the surface.

However, in Steve Yockey’s "Octopus" (through July 11 at the Phoenix Theatre), there’s no need for audiences to have to hunt for buried meaning. Instead, the oceanic metaphors leap right out into your net.

The playwright turns his metaphors into characters, builds speeches around them, and makes them a constant presence. Sometimes it all plays swimmingly, sometimes it sails gracefully, and other times it sinks.

Enough with the metaphors (which may well be what you think midway through the show if you haven’t bought in by the time we visit a character at the bottom of the sea).

Let me back up.

"Octopus" opens with a young male couple about to engage in a foursome with a more established pair they met at a bar. One of the guys is nervous about it, the other is excited. Both decide to go through with it with the faith that this will enhance their relationship rather than destroy it.

Obviously, they’ve never seen a Cinemax movie.

The well-acted (no mean feat when you and your three acting mates are buck naked) and suspenseful opening gives way to a few-days-after scene where cliched scripting and acting that can’t rise above it drains the play of the credibility it had worked hard to build.

Lesson re-learned: Floundering actors are more awkward to watch than naked actors any day.

But it soon becomes apparent that Yockey is only treading water (sorry). Soon, we get to the play’s real reason for being–the delivery of the metaphor. And some of what follows is truly stunning, thanks in large part to set designer Bryan Fonseca (who also directed) and lighting designer Laura Glover. They make a difficult-to-forget production out of a not-quite-worked-out play.

I’ll tell you no more. Wouldn’t want to be a wet blanket.

On June 20, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra opened its summer season with an evening of Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin–and the Grateful Dead. And the fact that I can barely remember it a few days later has nothing to do with illegal practices that used to go on at Dead shows.

Instead, part of the blame falls on daylight-saving time. I was a fan of this switch, appreciating the extra evening sunlight in summer months. But it’s changed the vibe of these Conner Prairie concerts.

It used to be that the sun went down some time around intermission, which helped silence–or, at least, lower the volume on–the chatty crowds. The darkness seemed to change the music, too, giving it more focus.

Alas, the light led many audience members to believe they were in their living rooms, carrying on nonstop conversations up to the end of the concert. I don’t expect silence at outdoor shows. But it’s nice to show some indication that you are there to hear at least a little of the music. (And, to be clear, it was not the obvious Deadheads who were yapping. Or the children. The gabby culprits seemed to be the more seasoned Prairie-goers.)

The distractions were in contrast with the low-key nature of the second half of the concert. Whereas the first act featured conductor Lucas Richman’s commentary, Lee Johnson’s second act "Dead Symphony No. 6" was offered without comment, attaching itself seamlessly to the orchestra’s tuning. It was two movements/songs into it (somewhere around "Here Comes Sunshine") before I realized that the program was underway.

Johnson’s core dilemma would seem obvious: How do you orchestrate the music of a band known for jamming?

His solution provided nice background music for cloud watching, providing a mellow, if unmemorable, evening. •

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