BWW Review: West Coast Premiere of EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON Addresses the Causes and Realities of Climate Change
The West Coast premiere of Mike Bartlett's immensely powerful and inventive play EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON by Rogue Machine at the Electric Lodge in Venice centers on a multimedia examination of the causes of climate change through the eyes of a modern family as they struggle to make sense of it all during a time of societal disconnect, corporate greed, and fractures within their own lives.
Written ten years ago yet seemingly so current today, Bartlett wisely reminds us that even though we inherited the Earth from our ancestors, mistakes and all, we are now borrowing it from our children. And just how do we want to leave it for them? Will climate change due to humanity's lack of regard for poisoning the environment get so bad that the Earth as we know it will not survive? And what caused such a grave reality in the first place?
Directed by Hollace Starr, an associate professor of theatre at Pepperdine University, a designated Linklater Voice teacher, and a lifetime member of The Actors Studio, with an innate understanding of feminine emotional turmoil, and John Perrin Flynn's keen eye for multimedia effects, EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON tackles our chronic inability to act in the interest of our future generations.At the center are three very different sisters who are left to raise and care for one another after their mother dies and their father abandons them. Now adults, the sisters find themselves navigating a 21st century London that is at the precipice of both an existential and an all-too-real environmental crisis. Will the sisters succumb to despair, especially after they reunite with their father after 20 years and realize the truth he was trying to share with them has now become a horrific reality? Or will they find a way to face the crisis head-on, embracing both the inevitability of an imperfect future and the possibility of hope?
Running in rep with Neil McGowan's new hit, DISPOSABLE NECESSITIES which I recently reviewed, both plays are crafted by extraordinary playwrights who build complex worlds with precise internal logic. Together they give audiences a look at what may be in store for our future, but not necessarily what should be."It was partly inspired by a quote from the climatologist James Lovelock," explains writer Mike Bartlett." We are living in a period similar to the Weimar Republic (i.e. we know something bad is on the way but we're trying to ignore it). Much of the work about climate change and global warming was often strangely disconnected from the way we live day-to-day. I want to write plays which are in some way vitally important for the audience watching them, so the question I had was, how does the threat of global warming change our behavior? And the story came from there."
Scenic designer David Mauer has created three playing areas with each representing one of the three sisters: Politico powerhouse Sarah (Anna Khaja); pregnant and confused Freya (Ava Bogle) who dons headphones to enter her own dream world; and Party Girl Jasmine (Taylor Shurte), all of whom live in London. Dressed to impress by costume designer Halei Parker, Sarah is struggling in her marriage while questioning her choice of career. Freya seems to have created an imaginary friend in Peter (Zoey Bond, using a hooded sweatshirt to hide her femininity) who seems to push the totally confused and very pregnant Freya to the brink of self-destruction, while Jasmine admits she just wants to get out there and "cause a little trouble while she can." Shurte brazenly flaunts Jasmine's need for attention through attention-grabbing and uber-revealing costumes, especially when gyrating through a burlesque routine choreographed by Marwa Bernstein.But it is when their estranged father Robert (Ron Bottitta) is visited by Freya's husband Steve (James Liebman) that the message of the play takes off. You see, Robert saw the dangers of what mankind was doing to the environment through bombarded the environment with toxins, especially via the aerospace industry in which Steve now works. The duo's intense first meeting over dinner with Robert's housekeeper Mrs. Andrews (Mari Weiss) lets us see exactly the family has stopped speaking to each other and why it is so vital for the family to reunite before it is too late to learn the lessons Robert has been attempting to teach for years before retiring to Scotland to live off the land while he can. The talented ensemble cast, several of whom play multiple roles, includes Michael James Bell, Ava Bogle, Zoey Bond, Ron Bottitta, Turner Frankosky, Anna Khaja, Kaitlin Kelly, James Liebman, Jeff Lorch, Kevin Phan, Sara Shearer, Taylor Shurte, Jonathan P. Sims, Paul Stanko, Christian Telesmar, Mari Weiss, and Miranda Wynne.
While often visually stunning, the 3-hour length of the play seems overly long with many scenes needing to be shortened or even dropped due to their repetitive nature. However, there are several ensemble numbers that allow most of the 17-person cast to let loose and bring a sense of our human frailty to light. Graphic and production designer Michelle Hanzelova and lighting designer Matt Richter symbiotically have created brilliant and attention-grabbing visuals in which we can both be shocked and in awe of the magnificent world we just may be robbing from our children if we do not change our ways.
Co-director Flynn shares, "If hope is a candle that each of us must keep burning as best we can, the growing darkness in the large world around us makes the task all the more difficult. Artists hope that by showing what is, what shouldn't be and what should be, they can create a dialogue, provoke questions - shape the process of living. We face overwhelming odds but we must remember that even the small thing we can do will make a difference. Plant a tree. Clean your recyclables, walk or use public transportation, fly less, don't buy items in non-biodegradable plastic bottles. Be conscious that what you do counts, that what may be is not what can be. Start now, however small the step."If nothing else, please be willing to examine how even small changes you can make in your own life and home can ultimately save our planet for our future generations. That hope is the best lesson learned during the emotional roller coaster ride called EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON. Performances by Rogue Machine in the Electric Lodge at 1416 Electric Ave. in Venice CA 90291 continue at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2pm on Sundays (dark Jan. 17 and Feb 21) through March 1, 2020. Tickets run $40 (Students $25). For reservations call 855-585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com Free valet onsite up to one hour before performance. Free street parking and metered.
Photos by John Perrin Flynn