After The Quake

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday July 19, 2009

"Superfrog Saves Tokyo:" Martin Lee and Michael Tow star in "After the Quake," playing at the BCA through August 15
"Superfrog Saves Tokyo:" Martin Lee and Michael Tow star in "After the Quake," playing at the BCA through August 15  (Source:Company One)

After the Quake, now being presented by Company One at the Boston Center for the Arts through August 15, plays like a fusion of Japanese fable and psychologically-driven Western drama. The result is a high-flying, highly stylized one-act play that examines love and regret through a hyperbolic, sometimes comically hyperventilating fairly tale in which a super-hero frog and an accounts manager save Tokyo.

The play's author is Frank Galati, who has adapted the work of Haruki Murakami, a Japanese novelist. Galati has given the work a glossy, highly colorful polish; between the script and Shawn LaCount's direction, "After the Quake" often feels like a live-action anime.

The actors' stylized readings and postures are a large part of that, especially the performance of Michael Tow, who plays the part of the play's Narrator and doubles as Frog, the mystical hero determined to save Tokyo from the seismic writhings of a periodically enraged being called Worm--a fitting name, for, we are given to understand, Worm is... well... a huge worm.

In order to stop Worm, Frog needs a human accomplice. From Tokyo's teeming millions he selects Mr. Katagiri (Martin Lee), a banking accounts collector tasked with the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous task of chasing down delinquent borrowers. Though Katagiri is cool and fearless while on the job, the prospect of joining forces with a six-foot tall frog and doing mortal combat with a train-sized worm deep below the surface of the Earth is so terrifying that he nearly comes unglued; indeed, the prospect gives him nightmares.

That's just as well, for two reasons. First, it is in the realm of dreams and imagination that the battle must take place; moreover, Katagiri, Frog, and Worm are all characters in a story being written by Junpei, a writer who finds himself in the tough position of watching over his best friend's wife, Sayoko (Giselle Ty) and their daughter, Sala (Sydney K. Penny). Sayoko and Takatsuki are separated, but it's more than a friend's duty on Junpei's part that he's willing to come over at 2 a.m. and calm Sala down after her nightmares; as it turns out, Junpei has been in love with Sayoko since college, and her feelings have mirrored his own. But Junpei has always been hesitant to give voice to his love for Sayoko, or to take any action about it--a shortcoming for which even Takatsuki takes him to task.

Saya's bad dreams are the result of TV coverage of a recent earthquake that has destroyed Junpei's home town, possibly killing his estranged parents: Junpei, too, is devastated by the quake, feeling too alienated to call his parents and check in; the doubt and regret he feels over the schism causes him pain he cannot overtly acknowledge.

In the tale of Frog and Worm, it's possible to see Junpei working out his own anxieties, examining his own buried feelings and the seismic shift they are causing in his psyche as his protective instincts toward Sayoko and Saya are amplified by the loss and uncertainty brought on by his home town's leveling.

But for all its deep-seated psychology, the play doesn't feel heavy: rather, it's whimsical and wild, with Junpei's imaginary characters portrayed in such an over-the-top manner as to be hilarious. The tone of Junpei's story contrasts nicely with the much more restrained quality that dominates the scenes set in Junpei's real life; some are in flashback, explained by the Narrator and by the characters themselves; a few are set in the present, with Junpei and Sayoko gradually moving toward the relationship they both wanted years before, but forsook.

Sean Cote's set design is spare and uncluttered; a peaking, pagoda-like roof is suggested, beneath which is a translucent wall. The lighting effects by John Forbes turn the wall into a vibrant backdrop: a red spotlight communicates panic and terror; green washes across the backdrop as Frog makes his introductions and explanations to the bewildered Mr. Katagiri; a winsome blue descends as Junpei faces his sorrows and his loneliness.

Two cubes serve as the set's furnishings: they provide everything the script calls for, pulling apart into a table and chairs, providing a cabinet, or unfolding into a bed.

The sound design by Arshan Gailus is effectively deployed, helping keep the fantastical material emotionally grounded; Gailus also serves as composer, and the music is evocative and sometimes even a little joking: listen for the strains of The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" at a suitable juncture.

The live music is continuous, with Shaw Pong Liu on Violin and James Wylie on bass clarinet. Their performance underscores those of the actors, from the tender blossoming of romance between Junpei and Sayoko to the comically overstated declarations of Frog and the near-hysteria of Mr. Katagiri.

"After the Quake" plays at the Boston Center for the Arts, located at 539 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End, through August 15.

Tickets cost $30-$38 and can be obtained online at www.BostonTheatreScene.com or via phone at 617-933-8600. Students pay $15 and seniors pay $30 with valid ID. All tickets cost $18 on "Wild Wednesdays," and the Sunday, July 19, performance at 2:00 p.m. will be "Pay What You Can," with a $6 minimum.

Performance schedule: Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Post-show discussions with the director and cast will take place Friday, July 24 and Friday, July 31.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.