Octopus from Stray Cat Theatre

Two things you have to know right away: Tonight, Thursday, April 7, student tickets to Octopus are $10 with ID. (!!!) And Friday and Saturday nights, April 8 and 9, playwright Steve Yockey will be in town and at the theater for a post-Octopus discussion with director Ron May and the adorable, smart, talented cast.

Whew. Now that that's out of the way, let's look at a play that's oddly fragmented in style and structure (sort of like the film Hancock, but puzzling for much shorter periods), successfully and sometimes infuriatingly emotionally manipulative (like E.T.), and socially conscious in a way that seems almost an afterthought, important though its issue is.

Not perfect, this Octopus, but imperfect in ways that are often fascinating -- a play that has, just like some of my favorite people, a strong, quirky, possibly mysterious personality, as well as no clothes for a little while.

Four men -- two couples, each of whom barely knows the other -- set out to have group sex at the very beginning of the play. As people are prone to do in somewhat awkward situations of this type, they get right down to business. This relaxed me, the audience member; I knew it was coming, as it's been a top-notch marketing tool for the production, but once it was behind us, I realized there would be a lot more than that to pay attention to. (All puns unintentional but appropriate.)

One couple stays together. One doesn't. Some of the stuff that happens seems symbolic and kind of supernatural, but perhaps it isn't. (Like a person who might be enigmatic but maybe really just never lets anyone know anything.)

It's not necessarily a sign of inferior writing that a script like Yockey's feels jittery and indecisive in spots. I believe it's a sign of evolution into a form of theater that makes some of the same leaps and associations that the human brain is capable of. The stimuli created by those juxtapositions are often electric and deeply felt.

This production's presented by Stray Cat Theatre, which seems to gravitate toward these newer, less linear works (as do Nearly Naked Theatre and a couple of other Valley companies) , and I'm appreciating the opportunity to sample them. Is this movement producing plays that will endure? Don't know; don't really care. Theater that's timely, with a built-in expiration date, is something we need more of, and it's nothing to be ashamed of.

Octopus honors the dignity and significance of the human heart's priorities while provoking thought and discussion on several other topics, too. Cleverly astute about the delicate dance of 21st-century relationships, it also grabs you like an old-fashioned weepie. It's super-gay and super-universal at once, which, ideally, someday soon, will no longer be something we feel the need to point out.

Octopus continues through Saturday, April 9, at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts, 132 East Sixth Street. Order tickets, $10 to $23, here, or buy 'em at the door. Call 480-820-8022 for more information.

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