Let’s make one thing very clear from the get-go: Seattle’s very own Justin Huertas is one of the most imaginative and original playwrights currently living on this planet! The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion, now in its world premiere at Arts West, is filled with enough wildly creative ideas to fill four or five scripts. Here, Huertas employs sci-fi/fantasy ideas to work as a vehicle to present very real human dilemmas involving maternal love, gay and lesbian relationships and general youthful angst. “Octopus”’ is enacted by a highly talented five member cast and director Mathew Wright has packaged a fast moving, spirited and often heading spinning one act. Though the work feels a bit cluttered in certain spots, Huertas continually provides thought provoking and insightful takes on a whole range of modern concerns.
The piece is the second leg of a set of “modern-myth musicals” that began with Lizard Boy. All the works take place in Seattle. The next installment, Lydia and the Troll, is to premiere at the Seattle Rep sometime next year. The“Octopus” plot begins with an imaginary incident that occurred in the very real Octopus Wrestling Championships that went on in mid-1960’s Seattle. Lordy, gotta love that old quirky Seattle! Grace, played by a human dynamo of an actress, Corrina Lapid Munter, has hidden the championship trophy she won for defeating an octopus in very mysterious circumstances many moons ago. Her daughter Lee (Rachel Guyer-Mafune) has found the award and thus unlocks a whole chest full of secrets that had been hidden by her mother and brother, Todd (Christian Quinto).
Huertas gets credit for the music and lyrics of the show; Steven Tran provided additional music and arrangements. The pieces seem a bit more traditional than the songs in Lizard Boy and mostly lean toward pop rock. A number of the tunes really work well; my favorite was “Sleep Well Love”. This song will become part of one of the show’s closing themes.
All the singers in the cast are very strong. Porscha Shaw, just finishing up working in Four Women at the Rep, ably plays Nia, a love interest for Lee. Tyler Rogers portrays a possible match-up for Todd, who is just rebounding from a tough break up. The cast is supported by a solid quintet led by Claire Marx. A special shout out for sound designer Hayley Parcher; the voices were clearly heard and mixed perfectly with the band–no easy feat in the unique theater in-the-round set up for this production.
As in Lizard Boy, Huertas shuttles back and forth from some highly specific earthbound realities and far, far-flung fantasy bits. “Octopus” concerns itself with Lee’s college orientation at the UW, a budding romance between Lee and Nia aided by the feverish use of cell phone texts, and the very real difficulties Grace has letting her daughter go off on her own. Yet the play also involves animated and speaking undertows, and characters magically growing tentacles and randomly changing colors. The murky demands of an unfathomable undersea world will link up to the mysterious tugs and pulls of love in 2019. Somehow it all works, with the action enhanced by some remarkably clever choreography imagined by Alyza Delpan-Monley.
Some day I would love to see Huertas turn down the flame a bit and present a simpler work involving his concerns about love, sexual identity and the possibilities of finding happiness in the turbulent modern scene that engulfs his young characters like, well…..a tidal wave! Until then, Huertas continues to do an excellent job of presenting high energy, eccentric and compelling musicals. Catch this wave while you can at the Artwest Playhouse and Gallery in West Seattle. The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion runs through July 28. For more ticket information go to artwest.org or call 206-938-0339.