I had nearly forgotten about the time, 20 years ago, when my boyfriend at the time and I engaged in our first “four-way” with another couple. But, as the drama unfolded in Steve Yockey’s play, “Octopus,” at Island City Stage last weekend, I was quickly reminded of the excitement and trepidation of that big event.
Kevin (Chris Mitchell) and Blake (Craig Moody) are a young couple who have lined up such an encounter with an older couple they met at the bar, Max (Juan Gamera) and Andy (Christopher Kauffmann). Blake is hesitant, but Kevin goads him on, promising an “adventure,” as they nervously await their arrival.
An uncomfortable meeting quickly devolves into a sweaty sexual encounter (artfully choreographed by Andy Fiacco) as bodies intertwine into a naked mass of appendages—the play is called “Octopus,” after all. Soon, Kevin finds himself on the side of the bed, a neglected spectator as his eagerly anticipated four-way becomes a threesome.
A little innocent fun results in intense feelings of jealousy and anger for both couples as Yockey’s play suddenly takes a complicated swim, almost drowning in metaphors.
The young couple’s argument is interrupted by the arrival of a telegram delivery boy (a very creepy Kristian Bikic) who is soaking wet on a seemingly sunny day. The cryptic telegram warns Blake that Andy is on the bottom of the ocean being attacked by a “sea monster.” Along the way, we learn that Andy tested positive for HIV and could have infected Blake, Max left Andy and Blake might be the next to face the ominous sea monster.
Throughout, Yockey’s approach seemed reminiscent of the works of young British expressionist playwright Sarah Kane (“Blasted,” “Cleansed”) —who incidentally suffered from mental illness and committed suicide at 28—and explored themes of love, sexual desire, pain and redemption through absurd plot twists and extreme stage violence.
Under the direction of Island City’s artistic director, Andy Rogow, the cast uniformly unleashes deep emotions in one of the most powerful, if not subtle, performances in the company’s short history. The audience winced throughout the Sunday evening performance as caresses turned to punches, thanks to extremely convincing fight choreography by John Manzelli.
Yockey’s play presents many technical demands, challenges in any theater but especially the intimate Empire Stage space, met ably by set designer Matt McClain, lighting designer Preston Bircher and sound designer David Hart. Video effects created by Andy Fiacco further accentuated the production, instantaneously transforming McClain’s comfy, contemporary condo into the eerily lit depths of the ocean floor. Also, be forewarned, the front row (and parts of the second) definitely falls within a “splash zone.”
Yockey’s play may not appeal to every theatergoer, but the lessons beneath the surface will resonate with anyone in a complicated relationship, thanks to Island City Stage’s strong production.
Island City Stage presents Steve Yockey’s “Octopus” through March 1 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Drive in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30. For show times and tickets, go to IslandCityStage.org.