By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Trust me, you absolutely must see “after the quake” opening the summer season at the Rogue Theatre, 300 E. University Blvd., where they like to use that lower case title. But as the understatement implies, there is some exciting subtlety on stage here.
Just as with trying to describe what a good poem is about, so is it impossible to reduce this lovely production to the description of a plot or a star-making performance.
Although…Matt Bowdren’s portrayal of Frog (don’t call him Mr. Frog) will stay in people’s memories as a Rogue highlight for years to come. Bowdren’s depiction of the “cockroach” in Rogue’s Kafka piece last season was nothing compared to his work as Frog, the brave amphibian who goes underground to fight a giant worm and save Tokyo from an earthquake.
See…the confusion is happening already. “after the quake” is not some sci-fi riff on old Japanese horror movies about the atomic bomb, etc. It’s nothing like that at all.
Nic Adams as director -- working with Javan Nelson, Marissa Garcia, Owen Virgin and young Larisa Cota – has created an evening of poetry in motion; a theater experience that can wrap every thoughtful person in its effervescent imagination.
As background: after the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, Haruki Murakami wrote a collection of short stories in response, titled “after the quake.” A pair of these stories, “Honey Pie” and “Superfrog Saves Tokyo,” have been combined and adapted for the English-speaking stage by Frank Galati.
But…this is not an attempt to present Tucson with another country’s culture, as the Rogue Theatre has done quite successfully at other times.
Rather, this production simply uses these stories to present in modern terms a kind of quiet, aching irony that could be shared and understood by all people from any culture. The only Japanese reference, really, is in the names of the characters.
“Honey Pie” centers on a trio of friends who met in college and stayed connected for years, though tested by betrayal and by time itself. The Kobe earthquake literally shakes up their lives.
“Superfrog Saves Tokyo” is more metaphorical but also concerns issues of trust and acceptance as a bank’s loan officer is suddenly thrust into overwhelming situations overnight.
The two stories are interwoven, with the four adults playing different characters in both stories. Changing a sport coat, or putting on a green pair of frog hands, is all it takes. There stage is mostly bare, leaving plenty of room for one’s imagination to soar.
So effectively is this production thought out and executed, there is never any confusion about where we are or which story we are in. One can follow along as easily as being caught up in a magician’s accelerating array of stage effects. The play is performed without an intermission so we reach the end in awe, filled with reflection and resolution all at once.
Joining the Rogue’s regular cast members Bowdren and Marissa Garcia are new faces Javan Nelson and Owen Virgin. Their skills are beautifully matched in this true ensemble piece.
Sure to get her own special cheering section is Larisa Cota, about to enter first grade and already a master of acting completely natural on stage. Never cutesy, never shy, she’s pretty much perfect in her theater debut.
“after the quake” continues through June 30, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, in the Rogue Theatre at the Historic Y, 300 E. University Blvd. All tickets are $30; 15 minutes before curtain, when available, student rush tickets are $15 (valid student ID required).
For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.theroguetheatre.org