ArtsWest’s ‘The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion’: Review

Justin Huertas’ latest is a coming of age tale that wraps you up
| Updated: July 2, 2019
 
 
From left to right: Rachel Guyer-Mafune as Lee, Tyler Rogers as David, Christian Quinto as Lee's brother Todd, Porscha Shaw as Nia, and Corinna Lapid Munter as Grace, Lee's mom in 'The Last Octopus Wrestling Champion'

When we meet the title character of local playwright Justin Huertas’s new fantasy musical—the last world octopus wrestling champion, Grace—it’s in a highlight reel of her final battle and the abrupt end of the championships. (Believe it or not, “octopus wrestling” was indeed a real competitive event that took place on Puget Sound shores in the 1960s.) Grace had angered spirits of the ocean, called the Undertow, so she took her trophy and ran, asking her son to hide it somewhere so that her daughter, Lee, would never find it.

Of course, years later, a college-aged Lee does find it, churning up a sequence of events that are both otherworldly (limbs transformed into rippling tentacles) and very human (a love story or two).

Huertas has a talent for creating Pacific Northwest-set stories that wrap together mythology, adventure, and coming-of-age queer love, such as Seattle Rep’s 2015 production of his acclaimed musical Lizard Boy. Here he has created a lyrical story that at its core is about relationships, and exploring different kinds of bonds—familial, as Grace (Corinna Lapid Munter) learns how to let Lee (Rachel Guyer-Mafune) become herself; romantic, as son Todd (Christian Quinto) meets his match, and, well, mythological, as spirits and humans break and renew alliances.

Four out of the five cast members pull double—and some triple—duty as narrators, spirits and humans. As they perform the songs, written and composed by Huertas with additional music, arrangements and orchestrations by Steven Tran, their voices flow through the play and propel the story so effortlessly that even musical skeptics will be swept into this fantasy that’s ultimately grounded in real life—and the tide-like push-pull between children and parents.

The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion. Through July 28. Prices vary. Times vary. ArtsWest, 4711 California Ave. SW, West Seattle; 206.938.0339; artswest.org

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