And a behind-the-scenes look into Argonautika
The two storytellers on the left, watching the fantasy story of how two unlikely characters save Tokyo, a six foot SuperFrog and a homely businessman. Jennifer Shin, Hanson Tse, Keong Sim, and Paul Juhn
Last night, I finally got a chance to visit the Berkeley Repertory Theater for the first time. And what a treat to see a play that I had wanted to see! I saw Frank Galati’s after the quake, based on a book written by Haruki Murakami. It was one of those hypnotic worlds where dreams and fantasies collide and blur the line between reality.
A lot of the press has spoken about how this play is relevant in today’s post-9/11 society. This play centers around the lives of people who survived the tragedy of the Kobe earthquake in Japan. To me though, it had little to do with how people deal with life after tragedy per se, but more universally about how people deal with having dreams and the dangers of such dreams. The characters adopt the strategy of detachment in order to cope with unreached expectations and lost loves. This detachment is magnified by the characters referring to themselves in the third person, and multiple characters share the narration, as if to prevent personal investment in the story. This mood of loneliness and detachment resonated with me as an audience member – perhaps because the sentiment is so relateable and the feeling is so intimately personal, and stayed with me long after I left the theater. Despite mixed reviews, I was absolutely riveted throughout the 90 minute play, and was disappointed when the play ended.
Hanson Tse and Keong Sim were standouts of this play. Both actors have inhabited their roles since its inception, and it really shows how they fully embody their roles. Hanson Tse really is Junpei, the gentle hero coping with his lost love and restrained and crippled to do anything about it. He copes with his failed dreams by spinning fantastical stories that swirl around him and the people around him, buffering his thoughts away from himself. As the play progresses, we start to see the the bubbling of a volcano of emotions underneath his restrained surface, when he realizes he’s reached none of his dreams since college. Keong Sim played the Narrator/Frog – assured and confident, I was struck not only by his talent but also by how roles like his are so rare amongst Asian American actors. It was refreshing to see, and this play was really a step towards Asian American portrayals on stage.
Despite the compelling stories, the play is still very book-like. The writing includes bits such as, “And he says”, which breaks up the flow and reminds the audience that this is originally a written story. Perhaps intentional, but in this sense, I understand why some people felt like this play doesn’t completely translate on the stage, and might be a better read than viewing it on stage. The drama and the riveting effect still translates onstage – in all, it made me more curious about the book this play was based on.
I left this play with a feeling and a mood – an aching bittersweetness of a lost love, with images of a droll frog fighting earthquake worms, Tonkichi the bear who can’t speak, a terrified girl trapped in a box, and unknown heroes.
A few words about Berkeley Rep: I have a soft spot for small theaters, which promotes a sense of intimacy lost in bigger spaces, and I loved the theater we were in, the Thrust Theatre. A small group of us had been invited to tour the Roda Theater as well, which is a bigger theater but still maintains a sense of intimacy. They were setting up the next play of the season, Argonautika, which is a play that I’m really excited about, as I’ve blogged about before. The half-built set looks really cool and multidimensional, with wood paneling as if you are inside a boat, with an open back wall. Directed by the Tony award winning Mary Zimmerman, she weaves the tale of Jason and the Argonauts with even a modern anti-war themes thrown in for good measure. Rumor also is that they use puppets in the show (I’m thinking more Julie Taymor-style Lion King puppets, not the Avenue Q kind).
And in general, Berkeley Rep is picking good works that challenge the boundaries of theater and redefine it. This, to me, is what art is about. I also love the fact that they are striving to reach new audiences, in different ways from providing discounts to audiences under 30, holding “30 Below” parties for people of similar interests to mingle, book clubs of relevant books to shows they are showing, as well as a series of gourmet tastings of chocolate, champagne, and more, before the shows. Check out more of their special events, here.
For me, there really is nothing more fun than experiencing theater and getting to talk about it with like minded people. Many thanks to Terence, Sarah, and Marissa for a great night at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
after the quake is playing through November 25th. Argonautika opens on November 2. Click here for tickets.
Here are my recommendations for this season at the Berkeley Rep.
Jen’s review of after the quake, when it was playing in La Jolla.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre website