Theatre Mirror Reviews - "After The Quake"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"After The Quake"

Based on stories in the novel by Haruki Murikami
Adapted by Frank Galati
Translation by Jay Rubin
Music Director Shaw Pong Liu
Directed by Shawn LaCount

Directing & Dramaturgy Assistant Grace Geller
Dramaturg Liana Thompson
Sound Design & Music Composed by Arshan Gailus
Set Design by Sean Cote
Lighting Design by John Forbes
Assistant Costume Designer Paige Warren
Costume Design by Miranda Kau Giurleo
Assistant Technical Director Nick Tosches
Technical Director Mark VanderZee
Scene Painting Sean Cote
Assistant Production Manager Alyssa McKeon
Production Manager Sarah Cohan
Child Acting Coach Robyn Jones
Assistant Stage Manager 1 Eliza Mulcahy
Assistant Stage Manager 2 Alycia Marucci
Stage Manager Emily C. Hayes

Narrator/Frog.........Michael Tow
Junpei.................Cheng Tang
Sala..............Sydney K. Penny
Sayoko/Nurse...........Giselle Ty
Katagiri/Tatsuki.......Martin Lee

Violin.........Shaw Pong Liu
Bass Clarinet....James Wylie

Poor little Sala wakes up screaming every night, afraid "The Earthquake Man" will come and cram her into a box too small for her. The only thing that calms her down are the stories Junpei tells her, using his oddly empathetic view of life, and making her stuffed bear a character. Sayoko her mother and Junpei decide to tell Sala the superhero-story of a giant frog ("Call me 'Frog'!") who tried to prevent the Kobe earthquake by entering the bowels of the earth to do battle with a worm. And maybe, even in fiction, he couldn't save Kobe, but he has and he will save Sala's home-town Tokyo --- so she can sleep at last without fear.

What a delightful play!

Everything here partakes of the spare yet subtly and intricately detailed Japanese style --- beginning with the irregular rectangles making up the huge square background-screen of Sean Cote's set, and the two musicians (playing Arshan Gailus's bouncily economic duet as the audience enters) seated near each side of it who accompany and illuminate the show. People appear and disappear through two doors on each side of the screen, often re-appearing playing someone else.

Michael Tow, the Narrator, becomes Mr. Frog ("Call me 'Frog'!") by donning green-rimmed goggle-glasses, green gloves, and a black jacket (by Costume designer Miranda Kau Giurleo) that is faintly tinged with green. But it's his hunched stance and his habit of hopping now and again that really bring the giant to life.

The entrance to the underground battleground is in the cellar of an office-building, and when the giant talking frog appears, Martin Lee's burocrat, clutching his brief-case, is so goggle-eyed behind his spectacles he is fear-frozen astonishment personified. But who argues with a giant frog who intends to save the city from an earthquake scheduled for next week?

Giselle Ty is Sala's Mother, beside herself with worry and exhausted by lack of sleep. She feels both embarrassed but grateful for the stories that calm her daughter back to bed.

The play is almost a set of narrative Chinese-boxes: there's the Narrator telling the story of a story-teller who tells stories in which a Frog tells tales of what will happen or what just happened off-stage.

Slim, gentle-voiced Chen Tang is Junpei, the story-teller who not only tells, but listens to the questions and reactions of his audience of one, adding or elaborating details to fit circumstances.

Of course, at the center of this narrative web is nine-year-old Sydney K. Penny's eager and participatory Sala. She never "just" listens, but lives the story with Junpei intensely and intelligently --- as the audience for Company One's production of this magically exciting play does through its uninterrupted hour and a half of charming surprises.

COMPANY ONE has been together through ten years of exciting theatrical artistry. The core company is still together, still at their day-jobs so the company can save on salaries, still dividing labor, still making great shows, still being treated like "the new kids on the block" by the major critical voices here in Boston. But along the way these quitely dedicated artists have been growing; there have been marriages and children off-stage, and always beautifully crafted and illuminating work on-stage. They think of themselves less as a company than a family, and invite people who love good theater to become part of this ever-extending family.
Take them up on the offer: you have no idea what you're missing!


"After The Quake" (17 July - 15 August)
@ Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide