Reviewed by Judy Richter
"After the Quake," celebrated director Frank Galati's stage adaptation of two stories by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, is an apt choice for audiences in quake-prone California. Hence, it's being co-presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse, starting in Berkeley. By coincidence, it opened on Oct. 17, the 18th anniversary of the devastating Loma Prieta quake in the San Francisco Bay Area. (The reviewed performance was Oct. 20.)
Using just five actors and two musicians, Galati interweaves "Honey Pie" and "Superfrog Saves Tokyo." Murakami wrote them in reaction to the Kobe, Japan, quake in 1995, followed just two months later by a cult's sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.The play opens with Junpei (Hanson Tse), a writer, telling a bedtime story to young Sala (first grader Gemma Megumi Fa-Kaji, who alternates with Madison Logan V. Phan). Sala can't sleep because she has nightmares about the Earthquake Man shutting her in a box. Junpei and Sala's mother, Sayoko (Jennifer Shin), have been friends since their freshman year in college. In fact, the shy Junpei has been in love with Sayoko all that time, but he never told her, so she married the third member of their group, Katagiri (Paul H. Juhn). Sayoko and Katagiri have since divorced, but all three have remained friends. Standing by as narrator is Keong Sim.
Merely by donning green latex gloves and bug-eyed glasses (costumes by Mara Blumenfeld), Sim then transforms himself into Frog, who must battle the giant underground Worm in order to prevent an earthquake in Tokyo that would be more devastating than the Kobe quake. However, he needs the help of a nearly anonymous bank employee, Takatsuki (Juhn again), to fight and vanquish Worm.
These two stories are deftly played out to the accompaniment of Jason McDermott on cello and Jeff Wichmann on koto. Seated on an upstage platform behind a scrim, they play snatches of Schubert and the Beatles as well as music by sound designers Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman. Accented by James F. Ingalls' lighting, James Schuette's set is simple but flexible with its glossy black floor, black table and three black chairs within a red frame.
Although Galati's pacing in the 80-minute, intermissionless play lags in a couple of places, the acting by this ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. The stories are both charming and engrossing, reflecting on the redemptive power of love and art as antidotes to fear and loneliness.