Katagiri returned home from grocery shopping one day to find a six-foot frog waiting for him in his apartment. The amphibian had come to recruit the mild-mannered loans officer for a very special mission: to help him defeat a colossal subterranean worm whose very existence threatened Tokyo with destruction. It sounds like a bizarre mashup of a Franz Kafka novel and a Mothra movie, but “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” is actually a story by Haruki Murakami from after the quake, a collection of stories published in 2000 and set in the month after the massive 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan. Rumble Productions and Pi Theatre will present Frank Galati’s adaptation for the stage of “Super-Frog” and another story, “Honey Pie”, at Studio 16 starting tonight (November 19) and continuing until December 5.
The appearance of the man-sized frog is the most obviously surreal aspect of the play, which otherwise deals with people reassessing their priorities in the wake of disaster. Still, things take a sharp turn into the realm of the imagination as the protagonist, a fiction writer named Junpei, spins tales of talking bears for his friend Sayoko’s young daughter. “We’re not sure if the frog is real or if it exists solely in Katagiri’s mind, or if we’re being taken to another world where both things are true,” Pi’s Richard Wolfe says in a conference call with his codirector, Rumble’s Craig Hall. “It’s the same in Sala’s mind, the little girl, when she’s dreaming of the Earthquake Man. He’s quite real, too. We never meet him, but in her mind he certainly exists.
“Murakami’s really big on the dream world, and where we draw the line between reality and dreams,” Wolfe continues. “And we’re hoping that the audience will feel slightly on shifting sands as well”¦just where they’re not sure exactly if what they’re seeing is real somehow, or kind of a little dream of their own.”
Hall notes that a literal depiction of Murakami’s storytelling would be impossible without resorting to CGI or elaborate costuming. Instead, the directors are relying on the skills of the actors—including Tetsuro Shigematsu as Junpei, Manami Hara as Sayoko, Leina Dueck as Sala, Kevan Ohtsji as Katagiri, and Alessandro Juliani as Frog—along with subtle staging tricks to convey the more otherworldly aspects of the story. Says Wolfe: “We’re not putting somebody in a giant frog costume, but certainly we’re doing some vocal treatments, we’re using some very theatrical lighting and playing with shadows, we’re adding little surreal touches to the costumes. And then we want the audience’s imagination to complete the picture. That’s what theatre does so well. The most fun an audience member can have in theatre is to be with the action on-stage, creating things in their own individual minds.”
“It’s a gift, too, because the frog character’s so intelligent and so articulate and so human,” Hall says, “but every once in a while the frog-ness of him bubbles to the surface, in the way that he moves and so on. He demonstrates his ”˜ribbit’, for example. Then we can use stage magic, like a mike that sort of rides on him, to grab his voice and put it through the four speakers and bounce it around the room, and stuff like that.”
“It’ll be an experience unlike anything people have had,” Wolfe promises, “in the sense that it’s such a pure storytelling event and yet highly theatricalized. He’s got his own voice—Murakami has a unique voice, a distinct voice. And so I think the experience will be the same for the individuals who see it: very unique.”