Many of you know that I am an enthusiastic fan of Haruki Murakami’s work. I’ve read every one of his novels and short story collections published in the United States (and even gone so far as London to grab hardcover editions of his books there–why is the cover art in the UK soooo much better than in the US?). If you’re a friend of mine, then you DEFINITELY know about my obsession.
And it was one of my friends who bought me tickets to go see After the Quake at the Berkeley Rep, a theater adaptation of two short stories from the titular short story collection. OMG! OMG. O.M.G. OMG!
Ahem. (just one more: OMG!)
So–the play is based on “Honey Pie” and “Superfrog Saves Tokyo,” which just happen to be my two of my favorite Murakami short stories…and definitely the two favorites out of After the Quake. But how could ONE play be formed out of these two very disparate stories? “Honey Pie” is an incredibly sweet story, one from Murakami’s Norwegian Wood vein, a love story of sorts. And “Superfrog Saves Tokyo” comes from the other end of Murakami’s work range–fantastic and abstract and surreal. I mean–one of the characters is a Big Huge Frog who aims to save Tokyo from an impending earthquake by fighting an underground Worm (there’s more to the story, but you should read it).
You see what I mean. How do you combine the two stories? That was the burning question in my head as we drove through the throngs of (dejected–because we lost the game) Cal football fans flooding the streets towards the Berkeley Rep theater. Needless to say, we were late–but had arrived just in time to be allowed a late seating in the back corner of the theater seating.
I was mesmerized! Keong Sim, who has been playing Super Frog since the play’s creation with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, was incredibly charming and mesmerizing as Frog. (And I’m proud to say–I once did a reading of Superfrog Saves Tokyo–and he used the same voice manner as I did! I guess I nailed the Frog’s voice in my enactment).
The other winner is Paul Juhn who plays both Katagiri and Takatsuki–we both didn’t even realize he was playing both characters until more than halfway through the play when he transformed into Katagiri before our very eyes, needing only to don a trenchcoat and glasses to become an entirely new character–something about his body language, his voice…he really was two different characters.
It was so fascinating to see these characters come to life! Halfway through the play, I started fantasizing about a movie made from Murakami’s novels.
Because of those two characters, the Superfrog part of the play was the stronger of the two parts–but that’s not to say that “Honey Pie” didn’t compete–the “Honey Pie” part of the play kept the narrative together and brought a sweetness to the play, just as it brought a sweetness to Murakami’s collection. And they did, oddly enough, integrate well.
The stories themselves were largely preserved in the play–so Murakami fans should rest assured. The humor is very intact, too! And the music adds another dimension to the performance, to the point where every time I read these stories, I may hear that haunting cellist.
My friend, who went with me to the play, said she enjoyed it, even though she has never read Haruki Murakami. Her one critique was that it was a bit weird that the characters, at point, talked in the third person. Being familiar with Murakami, I explained to her that his characters have a GREAT amount of interiority, and those third person soliloquies were a way for that crucial interior monologue to be expressed.
Anyway–if you’re a Murakami fan, you should check out Frank Galati’s play, “After the Quake”–it’s playing at the Berkeley Rep through November 25 (2007).
Oh and to note: there’s one line in the play that I got a kick out of. The character JunPei (who happens to be a writer) says, “The short story has gone the way of the stylus!” (Say it ain’t so!)