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'After the Quake' Enchants

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After the Quake

From the novel by Haruki Murikami, Adapted for the stage by Frank Galati, Translated by Jay Rubin

Director, Shawn LaCount; Stage Manager, Emily C. Hayes; Set Designer, Sean Cote; Lighting Designer, John Forbes; Sound Designer and Composer, Arshan Gailus; Costume Designer, Miranda Kau Giurleo

CAST:  Narrator/Frog, Michael Tow; Junpei, Chen Tang; Sala, Sydney K. Penny; Sayoko/Nurse, Giselle Ty; Katagiri/Takatsuki, Martin Lee

Musicians: Violin, Shaw Pong Liu; Bass Clarinet, James Wylie

Performances Wed thru Sun through August 15 at Company One, Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., Boston

Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.BostonTheatreScene.com

Let's face it; we live in an age of fear. Our belief that we live in a country that is immune from the terrors of the world was blasted apart on September 11, 2001. The previous administration in Washington operated under a philosophy that keeping the nation on high alert was the best way to keep us safe, but it also kept us on edge. Most recently, we have the specter of a swine flu pandemic to cope with, at the same time as the economy is in shambles and everyone is worried about keeping their jobs and paying their bills. Sometimes we go to the theatre to see our own circumstances played out in order to get a different view and a better understanding; sometimes we go for an escape, wanting mostly to be entertained. I like to be told a good story. Company One's Boston Premiere of Haruki Murakami's After the Quake at the Boston Center for the Arts hits the trifecta.

After the 1995 earthquake that caused massive destruction in Kobe, Japan, the novelist and short story writer wrote six fictional stories to explore the psychological aftermath and its effect on human relationships. Struck by the parallels with living in the post-911 world, Frank Galati, a Tony Award-winning Adapter and Director, took two of the stories from Murakami's book and blended them into this stage adaptation. "Honey Pie" focuses on two men and a woman, college friends whose love triangle evolves into lifelong connections as they each come to realize their need for the others. When Sala (Sydney K. Penny), the daughter of Sayoko (Giselle Ty)  and Takatsuki (Martin Lee), suffers from terrible nightmares, it is their good friend and short story writer Junpei (Chen Tang) who calms the little girl by making up stories about Masakichi the Bear and a six-foot frog's fight to save Tokyo.

In "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo," the oversized amphibian visits Mr. Katagiri, a mild-mannered assistant chief of the Lending Division of the Shinjuku branch of the Tokyo Security Trust Bank. Frog (Michael Tow) hopes to recruit Katagiri (Lee) to help him defeat Worm, a gigantic underground creature who causes earthquakes when he is angry, and ward off devastation of the city. While Katagiri cannot understand why Frog wants his help, it is his very nature as a less-than-average man that makes him the perfect partner for the battle. Having observed him in his work and his daily life, Frog knows that Katagiri possesses courage and a passion for justice and will stand by him in his mortal combat with Worm.

The Common theme of the two stories is the characters' fears and how they are able to deal with them. As Frog tells Katagiri, the imagination is the location of the battlefield. Sala retains her fear of earthquakes, but believes that Frog and the adults who love her will protect her. Katagiri's hopes and dreams are enough to keep him going, even though he has very little in his life. The stories are woven together with narration of the "Honey Pie" scenes by the Narrator (Tow) and the Super-Frog allegory being "told" by Junpei. While there is a fair amount of narration, I think it works here because it mirrors Junpei telling the story to Sala and the action is happening in the foreground while Narrator or Junpei describes it. In addition, the entire play is enhanced by the unusual presence of two onstage musicians, Music Director and violinist Shaw Pong Liu and bass clarinetist James Wylie, who weave a web of exotic notes (composed by Arshan Gailus) throughout the narrative. 

Director Shawn LaCount and the Asian-American cast (all making their Company One debuts) create an atmosphere that is perfect for sitting back and listening to a story in the cozy Plaza Theatre at the BCA.  With no intermission to interrupt the flow of the less-than-ninety minutes production, the five actors do not break stride as the scenes shift, sometimes changing from one character to another on the fly, as it were. Tow removes green gloves and green-rimmed eyeglasses, straightens his posture, and places a battered fedora on his head to transform from Frog to Narrator. As Katagiri, Lee wears a trench coat, necktie, and a worried look, but is relaxed and convivial in a leather jacket and backwards baseball cap when Takatsuki takes the stage. Penny plays Sala as endearing and inquisitive, but is equally adept in the nightmare scene as the horrified child trapped in a little box by the Earthquake Man. The nine-year old Needham girl's stage presence is totally charming and unpretentious.

The beating heart of After the Quake lies in the relationship between Sayoko and Junpei. Ty and Tang show us the emotional journey of the two who start as friends and emerge as soul mates. The love is always in their eyes, sometimes tinged with sadness and longing, and sometimes with hope or redemption. Each of the actors gives a solid performance and offers something to like about their characters. Frog is a bit cartoonish, but I mean that in a good way. Tow's rendition brings to mind William Shatner with his somewhat staccato manner of speech, and his frog-like stance and leaping from point A to point B are spot on. Lighting Designer John Forbes helps out, providing green shading for Frog's scenes. Sean Cote's set is compact and efficient as two large cubes have drawers that house props and serve as table and chairs, hospital bed, and perch for Frog. The backdrop evokes a Japanese screen and frames the musicians seated on the top tier of the stage. Costume Designer Miranda Kau Giurleo dresses them in beige Karate gi-style outfits, but other than Sayoko's kimono, the actors wear mostly typicAl Western garb.

In sum, After the Quake is a good story well told, with humor and pathos and fully realized characters that are not so different from us. They find themselves in situations that test them and they must dig deep to get in touch with their true emotions and find the courage to face their individual challenges. We can learn from their choices and their journeys, but it never feels like a lesson because The company One production is so enchanting. It's a great bedtime story, too. I'm just sorry I still had to drive home.

 

 Photo: Shaw Pong Liu, Giselle Ty, Chen Tang, Michael Tow, James Wylie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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