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After The Quake

October 18, 2007

The director Frank Galati has described the stories of the Japanese author Haruki Murakaami as being "porous". This is exactly the word I would use to describe Galati's delicate adaptation and staging of Murakami's After The Quake, which opened at Berkeley Rep last night.

Murakami's stories are porous in and of themselves -- they're like waking dreams -- and Galati has made two very different narratives in Murakami's story collection After The Quake resonate with each other in subtle ways. In one story, a shy author pines over an old girlfriend and enchants her small daughter with magical tales about an intelligent bear and and a giant frog who saves Tokyo from destruction in an earthquake. In the other story, a "super frog" combats a deadly earthquake-causing worm under the streets of Tokyo with the help of a timid bank employee. Cello and koto music unite the two very different storylines, as well as subtle references to nature and the worlds of literature and art. The structure of the production is very intermingled too - with two narratives weaving in and out of each other and the same actors taking on different roles in the different narratives.

The transition of narrative fiction and stage action with too much fidelity to narrative structures is often an issue for me. It's hard to feel immersed in a stage play when the actors are narrating directly to the audience and many of the "he said's" and "she said's" remain in tact on stage. Also, the frog narrative, with its surreal fairytale aesthetic -- actor Keong Sim plays the frog in a suit, green glasses and a pair of green gloves -- and the pungent green lights is much more strange and fascinating than the sentimental story about the writer and the love of his life.

Yet despite the imbalance, Galati and Murakami's storytelling efforts sweep the audience along. It's the sort of theatre that would get this part of the world through a quake. It's ultimately about survival and finding love and hope in the wreckage.


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