Just past five in the afternoon on October 17, 1989, I was working at Universes Records in Santa Cruz when Thor's hammer struck somewhere deep under our feet. What followed for the next 15 seconds (it seemed like at least two minutes, if not three) was the Loma Prieta earthquake (magnitude 6.9 or 7.1, depending on how you measure it). The experience was one of sheer terror, but perhaps more interesting was what followed: People got downright weird, screaming in fury at aftershocks, staring into space, indulging in inappropriate romantic couplings. Katie Kaufman's directorial debut takes place after the 2004 Asian tsunami, a far greater disaster in which more than a quarter of a million people lost their lives. And it captures the feeling of desolation and blank confusion that follows a good long stare into nature's unsympathetic side. In this ensemble-created piece, Jon Ferguson wakes up on the beach amid wreckage and ruin, only to begin playing goofy games with a bucket he finds at his feet. Soon the others appear, all in equal states of derangement, unable to remember who they are and how they got there. Sara Richardson goofily creates an imaginary house out of a chaise lounge, inviting Ferguson, Kimberly Richardson, and Marcus Quinones to join her in its impossibly cramped confines. Soon the survivors try to imitate the rituals of everyday life, sitting before a made-up meal in an imaginary restaurant, where Jason Bohon gamely serves invisible food. While the cast conveys the comedy and despair of their predicament, this one-hour piece begins to drift a bit, and to lean too heavily on whimsy. Then memory of the disaster arrives in a metaphorical wave, and the cast mimes the experience of being pulled under and fighting for air. Quinones later cries out in bottomless grief when the memory of a missing loved one bubbles up to the surface, and Sara Richardson sings a soft song of loss on the darkened stage. This work doesn't squarely hit the mark, but it knows its way around the terrain of survival and trauma—deep waters indeed.
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