After the quake weaves together two stories

Deceptively simple: (from left) Katie Bradley, Brant Miller, Kurt Kwan, Eric Sharp
Dan Norman

The staging for after the quake, the latest work by Walking Shadow Theatre Company, is deceptively simple. It opens with a nearly bare stage with just a single piece of set: a wooden bed low to the ground, with just a blanket and a stuffed bear for decoration.

It ends up that the bed can be positioned as a low table or a desk as well, serving as the center point for the various locations in this adaptation of two pieces by Haruki Murakami from his titular novel. The play is just the same: seemingly simple at first but adding depth as it moves along.

You can give some of the credit to Frank Galati's economic adaptation, which weaves two distinct stories into a thrilling, moving whole. But much of the credit also goes to the company: The five actors and the backstage team have worked together to create a seamless, striking tale.

The main story, "Honey Pie," follows an unusual love triangle between three characters who became best friends while studying literature in Tokyo. Junpei, who dreams of becoming an author so much that he defies his parents, who want him to study business, quickly falls for Sayoko. The two seem made for each other, but Junpei hesitates, and their third friend, Takatsuki, swoops in to marry her.

Years later, the marriage has fallen apart; there is a young daughter, Sala; and Junpei, now a writer of mixed success, still can't act on his emotions. When a major earthquake shakes Japan—and Sala no longer can sleep—he helps in the only way he knows how, by spinning a story.

In "Superfrog Saves Tokyo," we meet another painfully lonely man, Katagiri, who is visited one night by a six-foot-tall frog with an even more unlikely story: He needs the banker's help in fighting the great worm that lives beneath the city and preventing an earthquake that could kill 150,000 people.

As the stories weave together, the parallels between the two men become clear (naturally, as Junpei has created Katagiri out of his own experiences), and though they are both something of sad sacks, their doubts and sometimes paralyzing fear are familiar to anyone who has crossed into their 40s with regret.

The three actors at the center carry most of the story's weight, and they do it very well. Eric Sharp as Junpei walks a tightrope, making the character very likeable (he's kind, considerate, and quick to tell a story) but with heavy-duty flaws. Junpei keeps his desires hidden through the first half of the play, letting the story unfold to identify what's eating at his soul.

Kurt Kwan gets handed two rather different roles to play, the well-meaning but something-of-a-jerk Takatsuki and the lonely but tough Katagiri, who collects on bad loans given to gangsters and other folks of ill repute. It's not just that Kwan manages to create two distinct characters, he is also able to find connections between the two in his performance, and connections to Sharp and Junpei.

The final side of the triangle is Katie Bradley as Sayoko. Her performance is as reserved as the rest, but Bradley makes the character a warm charmer, so it's clear why both men would fall in love with her.

Aiding these three is Brant Miller, who narrates "Honey Pie" and then transforms—via glasses, a hat, green gloves, and his own acting talent—into the giant Frog. Frog is an unlikely superhero, but he possesses all the qualities you look for, including bravery to the point of self-sacrifice. Miller never drops his belief in the character for a moment, giving a funny but also moving performance. Finally, Natalie Tran makes for a delightful (if at times a bit hard to hear) final piece of the puzzle.

Director Amy Rummenie was handed a scary real-world counterpoint to the show after the recent earthquakes in Japan, but while the aftershock—and always-present danger—of a major earthquake is part of the show, it never dominates the proceedings. Instead, this is a play about finally jumping in, taking chances, and hoping for happiness before the quake—or anything else—makes that impossible.

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