Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of THE GREAT WAVE at Berkeley Rep?

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Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of THE GREAT WAVE at  Berkeley Rep?

The Great Wave recently opened at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and critics were in attendance! Check out reviews of the production below!

In a Japanese coastal town in 1979, teenage sisters Hanako and Reiko run onto the beach during a tremendous storm on a dare. Hanako is tragically swept out to sea, while Reiko survives - but recalls seeing three mysterious men on the shoreline. The authorities determine that Hanako has drowned, but her mother insists that her missing daughter is still alive. Spanning over 20 years and the two vastly different countries of Japan and North Korea, The Great Wave by Francis Turnly is at once a riveting geopolitical thriller and a powerful story of the unshakable bonds between a mother, a daughter, and a sister who refuse to give up hope.

"Berkeley Rep has long been championing playwrights like Francis Turnly who offer us access to stories and worlds that aren't often explored onstage," says Artistic Director Johanna Pfaelzer. "The Great Wave illuminates a gripping story of international intrigue told through an intensely personal lens. Seeing it is like experiencing a propulsive page-turner, which I find rare in the theatre."

Check out the reviews below!


Lily Janiak, Datebook: "The Great Wave" seeks to make an extraordinary moment in Japanese-Korean relations human in scale, distilling years of regional tensions down to the havoc they wreak on a single family. But in the show's current incarnation, the historical backdrop is the liveliest part, whereas characters and relationships are straight out of a textbook.

Karen D'Souza, The Mercury News: The tension dissipates as the action floats back and forth through time and place. Hanako's grieving family searches the shore for her in vain, year after year, while she sinks deeper and deeper into the totalitarian culture of the "Great Leader," Kim Il-sung. Turnly attempts to connect the personal and the political but the narrative feels choppy, particularly in the slow-moving first act. Too many cumbersome set machinations and some shallow performances also keep the play from attaining a sense of depth. We spend a lot of time watching these characters move through the decades but we never get to know them very well.

Jean Schiffman, SF Examiner: But Turnly's play feels contrived and flat, despite being steeped in such potentially powerful elements as political tensions and maneuvering, imprisonment in scary North Korea, and high-pitched emotions all around. Part of the problem is the playwright's stilted, banal dialogue, full of clichés, in a storyline that calls for poetic or at least deeply expressive and literate treatment. (The phrases "What kind of person are you?" and "What sort of man are you?" both appear, and when bereft Reiko gets proof that Hanako is in North Korea, and shrieks "She's alive!" it's hard not to think of Frankenstein.)

Eddie Reynolds, Theatre Eddys: As educating, captivating, and eventually genuinely moving as Francis Turnly's story is, the play's first half hour or so suffers from dialogue that is often a bit clunky and mindless, with actors delivering those lines too perfunctorily, almost as if casually reading from a script the first time. As interesting as the set-up and as wowing are the visuals of video and lighting, the play takes quite a while to grab its audience.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Berne/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

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