"After the Quake"
Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
“After the Quake,” now at Long Wharf is a baffling, whimsical and often endearing piece of theater. “What’s going on here?” one wonders, as Japanese writer Haruki Murakami takes us through a world of dreams, fantasy, and all-too-human fears. Just as its Tokyo characters are haunted by a recent Kobe earthquake, we, too, are haunted by their dilemmas. Confusing though the piece may be, we stay with it long after the curtain comes down, mulling it over, living with it. This will not be a show for most theatergoers, but it may send some to the library to track down translations of this Japanese author.
The play is based on two Murakami short stories, adapted for the stage by writer/director Frank Galati, and offered up by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago (to which Long Wharf plays host).
Galati has woven together “Honey-Pie” and “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo.” The former is the tale of three college friends—a woman and the two men who love her—one a banker, the other a writer. Ultimately, she marries the wrong man, and thereby hangs the tale. This tale winds like a thread through “After the Quake,” giving it a footing in the real world. We in the modern world relate very well to star-crossed lovers and marriages gone sour. But Super-Frog’s antics, wrapped around the other plot, takes us into a surreal world. Super-Frog, a huge green frog, corrals an ordinary Tokyo citizen, convincing him that they must go underground to do battle with Worm, to save Tokyo from an earthquake. Apparently, Story Two has been written by the writer in Story One, but the two stories make for an awkward fit. Suddenly the everyday world turns into wispy dreams or fairy-tale stories spinning out of control. One questions whether Galati should have combined these two disparate tales.
Yet Murakami creates fascinating situations in forthright, simple prose (the Hemingway influence is obvious), peppered with humorous insights into the contemporary world. There are moments of sheer delight, as when the characters are pretentiously literary or highly genteel. “Mr. Frog!” says our hero, on meeting the Frog. “Call me Frog,” the frog responds in a show of camaraderie.
Galati’s production is clean-cut, with never a wasted move or extra line of dialogue. His cast of four—Keong Sim, Hanson Tse, Aiko Nakasone, and Andrew Pang—plus Olivia DiMarco and Bing Klein who alternate as the little daughter—are impeccable in their roles. Pang, in particular, has a flawless sense of comic timing, as he gazes into space, or freezes with shock at the sight of Super-Frog. And Galati’s choice of live music in the background—Jason McDermott’s cello and Jeff Wichmann’s Japanese Koto—underscore the mysterious mood.
In all, an intriguing piece, though we cannot give it unqualified praise or urge theatergoers to see it. This is one for those who cultivate quirky tastes.
-- Irene Backalenick
Mar. 1, 2006