After the quake the stuff of dreams
By Haruki Murakami. Adapted for the stage by Frank Galati. Directed by Craig Hall and Richard Wolfe. Copresented by Pi Theatre and Rumble Productions at Studio 16 on November 20. Continues until December 5
It’s the stuff of dreams. Japanese author Haruki Murakami specializes in creating fictional worlds in which ordinary people are thrust into surreal situations. In after the quake, American playwright Frank Galati weaves together two stories from Murakami’s 2000 collection of the same name, both set shortly after the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake. “Honey Pie” traces a decade-long love triangle involving Junpei, a writer, and his two best friends from college, Takatsuki and Sayoko. In “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo”, a gigantic frog recruits Katagiri, a lonely, unassuming bank officer, to battle an enormous worm in order to prevent an earthquake in Tokyo.
Galati breathes theatrical life into fictional conventions. There’s a narrator, but he isn’t just an invisible bystander, and all the characters take turns filling in details as we move seamlessly between the two stories. “Super-Frog” is framed as a work in progress by Junpei, who is also trying to comfort Sayoko’s daughter, Sala, with stories that will distract her from her nightmares of the Earthquake Man. But he’s dismissive of his work. “The short story’s on the way out,” he tells Sayoko, “kind of like the slide rule.”
Everything about this Pi/Rumble coproduction works. Tetsuro Shigematsu’s Junpei is awkward, shy, and hopelessly self-aware. Manami Hara brings genuine sweetness to the conflicted Sayoko; her daughter, Sala, is played with natural assurance by Hara’s real-life daughter, Leina Dueck. Kevan Ohtsji is all macho bluster as Takatsuki, and timid perplexity as Katagiri. But Alessandro Juliani’s Frog is the show’s most virtuosic creation. He’s nattily attired, right down to the crystal handle on his walking stick; erudite (he quotes Nietzsche, Tolstoy, and Hemingway); and physically inventive. “I’m a genuine frog,” he assures Katagiri. Then, indulgently: “Shall I croak for you?” Bathed in green light, he coughs out a timid “Ribbit,” smiles apologetically, then makes some truly menacing sounds.
The production looks terrific, too. Yvan Morissette’s handsome rice-paper-screen set is beautifully lit by Itai Erdal. And Yota Kobayashi’s intricately layered sound design adds both atmosphere and emotional intrigue.
Wildly original and warm without ever lapsing into sentimentality, after the quake is both a great ride and a testament to the healing powers of imagination.