Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"After The Quake": ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG

Haruki Murakami's two short stories 'Honey Pie' and 'Superfrog Saves Tokyo' are the basis for "After The Quake," playing on Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage through November 25. The 85 minute production (with no intermission) is like Tokyo in the summer -- complex, crazy and a little steamy.

The show starts slowly, as the five-person cast switches roles and takes turns at narration. But Frank Galati's direction is so crisp, and the cast so riveting -- is the remarkable Paul H. Juhn REALLY playing both the mild mannered Katagiri and the young, strutting Takatsuki? -- that when the dream-within-the story-within-the play format finally emerges, it does so with explosive power.

Hanson Tse and Jennifer Shin do a marvellous job as the two shoulda-been lovers Junpei and Sayoko -- or maybe they actually do become a couple, unless it's just another of Junpei's stories. Murakami's work is always multi-layered, so don't expect to get everything. As Frog says, quoting Nietzsche: "Understanding is the sum total of all our misunderstandings."

Oh, that know-it-all Frog. He quotes not only Nietzsche but Conrad, Hemingway, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Costumer Mara Blumenfeld has dressed him in a three piece suit with green gloves, green socks and green glasses, and that incongruous getup helps the marvelous Keong Sim give Frog a combination of agent of salvation and Yakuza mobster. Frog is defintely The Man.

Kudos to the live duo of Jason McDermott on cello and Jeff Wichmann on koto, always in gauzy view of the audience while playing. But one small niggle: everytime they play the Beatles' 'Norwegian Wood,' in an otherwise Asian-inspired score, it feels terribly out of place. Sure, the cognoscenti will know that another Murakami short story is entitled 'Norwegian Wood.' Others -- who, me? -- find it jarring.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ 1/2 BANG

The SF Theater Blog Awards Division awards "After The Quake" one star for Murakami's beautiful language, one star for acting and direction, one star for the costumes and sets and another half for getting a child actor (six-year-old Gemma Megumi Fa-Kaji alternates with nine-year-old Madison Logan V. Phan) to speak her lines with such power; a Bangle is awarded for that amazing audience-gasps-moment when Paul H. Juhn throws off Takatsuki and becomes Katagiri before our eyes. Three and a Half Stars plus one Bangle for "After The Quake" and remember: at Berkeley Rep's Thrust Stage every seat is a good seat.

Berkeley Repertory Company
2025 Addison St., Berkeley
Tue-Sun $27-$69.

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