Jackalope Theatre OCTAGON Review– Slamming into the Chicago theatre scene

Jackalope Theatre OCTAGON
KiKi Layne and Ryan Hallahan Joel Maisonet

Underbelly of Slam Poetry Scene

The world premiere of Octagon by Kristiana Rae Colón is about the underbelly of the slam poetry scene. The show is played out as if the poets are being filmed for a documentary and we, the audience, get to see all the relationships, friendships, teams, enemies, and stories of the poets. The first act deals with a three person team heading for the championship of slam poetry, The Octagon, looking for a fourth person to fill a recently vacated position.

 

The team, Chimney, Palace, and Chad (played by Mykele Deville, Eric Gerard, and Will Kiley respectively) hold a competition for their fourth poet at a bar hosted by The Watcher Named Pen (Sydney Charles). Three other well-known poets on the scene enter the competition - Jericho, Tide, and Prism (Tina Munoz Pandya, Travis Delgado, and Kiki Layne) - as well as outsider and newcomer, Atticus (Ryan Hallahan). The second act sees the events that follow as the team casts their new member and how deeply intertwined the entirety of this slam world is.

Mykele Deville, Ryan Hallahan and KiKi Layne Joel Maisonet

OCTAGON speaks a new language

At first the fast-paced, slam poetry-like dialogue of Octagon can be a bit overwhelming. But it’s like seeing a movie where they speak in olde English – it’s startling at first because it’s not something you hear every day, but within the first ten minutes you’re accustomed to it and are eagerly awaiting the next poetic verse.

 

Jackalope Theatre Audience Participates

One of the best parts about this play is the feeling you are being invited into this world of slam poetry by being given a chance to participate with the action happening. The stage is set up in such a way where it is as if we were audiences at the slam poetry events. You are handed a shaker and asked to make some noise if there is something you like or call out something you don’t. It builds a sense of community with your fellow audience members and more intimacy in the small theater space.

The fictional camera crew recording this documentary also aids in that spectator feel. It’s used as a great theatrical tool to get more information about our characters as they give personal interviews to the camera. The set design by Shaun Renfro also did a great job of carrying the behind the scenes feel by building the set in all unfinished wood to reflect the rough underside or backstage of a production.

 

Jackalope Theatre OCTAGON
Tina Muñoz Pandya Joel Maisonet

Powerful Voices

Each character has their own unique voice and style of poetry to reflect their different walks of life. However, we never hear a separate interview from Prism; the only information we have comes from what the other characters say about her. She is a powerful, central, but divisive force in the entire show and Kiki Layne does an excellent job of playing Prism as a mystery and keeps the audience in the dark about her true character.

Highly Recommended

Along with Layne, all of the actors under the stellar direction of Tara Branham do an incredible job of delivering Octagon’s story with such an energy and passion that is hard to find elsewhere in Chicago. This is a story about lifting up others who have no voice. It’s about losing your voice, but finding it again along the way. This play is fresh, played by talent so raw that it grips you up until the very end. A must see for theatre and poetry lovers alike, consider it highly recommended!

When:

Now through December 11, 2016
Fridays – Sundays 7:30 pm

Where:

Broadway Armory Park
5917 N Broadway St., Chicago

Tickets:

$5 - $25
on sale via jackalopetheatre.org

Photo:  Joel Maisonet

 

Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.

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