Reviewed by Michael J. Opperman
After the Quake is a curious work, an impossibly delightful meditation on disaster and our powerlessness in its wake. First staged at the Steppenwolf Theater Company several years ago, the play is an adaptation (by Frank Galati) of two short stories from Haruki Murakami's collection of the same name. Written after the 1995 earthquake that devastated the Japanese city of Kobe, the collection explores the capacity and limitations of storytelling. Galati chose two of Murakami's stories for his elegant chimera, blending the prosaic and the fantastic.
The Walking Shadows Theatre Company's staging of this regional premier is spare, amounting to little more than shoji screens and a platform on legs that is raised and lowered to suggest a bed or table. Steve Kath's minimalist set emphasizes the interactions of the actors - and the inherent weirdness of Murakami's vision.
The lights come up on a man alleviating the night terrors of a young girl with the story of a honey bear that can read, talk and count money. Junpei (Eric Sharp), our earnest storyteller, is still in love with the young girl's mother, who married (and later divorced) his best friend years before. Trundled off to bed by her mother, Sala (Natalie Tran) briefly sleeps peacefully before being visited again by 'the earthquake man' threatening to put her in a box. Sharp and Katie Miller, who plays Sala's mother, adeptly portray the attraction and tenuous intimacy between the two. Their eyes meet in unselfconscious concern over the wellbeing of Sala.
Twined with this narrative is the story of Katagiri (Kurt Kwan), a salaryman visited by a frog (Brant Miller) looking for help to do battle with "Worm" to save Tokyo from an earthquake. Decked out in a tailored gabardine suit, bowler and four-fingered green gloves, Frog is a courageous dandy quoting Conrad, Neitzche, Dostoyevsky, and expressing horror at Katagari's ignorance of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.
In alternating currents, we learn about the beginning of Junpei's friendship with Takatsuki, also performed by Kwan, and Sayoko (Bradley); his burgeoning love for Sayoko; and his hesitation that allows Takatsuki to court her first. And, imbued with a certain charm by Miller, it was hard not to anticipate Frog's visits to Katagiri. Neither Murakami nor Galati allow for easy allegory or simple descent into fable. Amy Rummenie's direction of the play keeps the valences evocative, meaningful and strange.
In an expert choreography of narration, exposition is provided alternatively by several characters who pick up and drop off, hitting multiple marks on the stage and lending the production a distinctive momentum.
We're fortunate to have such excellent and committed theater in the cities. Between smaller itinerant companies putting on compelling productions where they can secure stage to larger powerhouses with the means to stage breathtaking epics, there is no paucity of choice. But it is the rare play that closes in a manner that is both surprising and inevitable, that is uplifting while still remaining provocative. I can't recommend The Walking Shadow Theatre Company's production of After the Quake enough.Return to Home Page