Quake and Shake

Company One meshes Murakami; Orfeo compacts the Bard
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  July 22, 2009

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AFTER THE QUAKE: The seismic shifts take place as much in the heart as underground.

A tenderhearted yarn spinner tells an anxious little girl a story about a talking bear hawking honey. A nerdy young debt collector comes home to find a six-foot amphibian bent on recruiting him to save Tokyo from a natural disaster. Both scenarios emanate from the brain of award-winning Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, whose short-story collection After the Quake consists of tender, whimsical fictions inspired by the collective trauma of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and suggesting that our best defense against terror may be imagination. Two of the book’s tales have been conjoined for the stage by Tony-winning adapter Frank Galati, who was struck by the similarities between Murakami’s post-catastrophe Japan and our own country in the wake of 9/11. After the Quake, his piquant amalgam of “Honey Pie” and “Superfrog Saves Tokyo,” is currently enjoying a charming, Asian-influenced Boston premiere by Company One (at the BCA Plaza through August 15) that only occasionally crosses the line between punchy surrealism and cartoon.

Artistic director Shawn LaCount is at the helm of the production, which benefits greatly from the original music and sound design of Arshan Gailus, as performed on stage by violinist Shaw Pong Liu and bass-clarinettist James Wylie; their interpositions provide both witty punctuation and the emotion that underlies Murakami’s funny but poignant tales of repressed love, midnight terrors, and sci-fi exploit, in which seismic shifts take place as much in the heart as underground.

In Galati’s fusion, Junpei, the struggling novelist still yearning for the woman who married his more confident college chum and wrapping that love into the comfort he offers her quake-freaked child, becomes the author of the fantastical tale of the debt collector galvanized by the ninja amphibian to heroic action, if only in his dreams. Thus the actor who plays Frog narrates the tale of the writer as the writer narrates his. And as the ribbiting Rambo, Michael Tow, squatting and darting in green-streaked leather jacket and verdant rubber gloves, is a combination superhero and authorial stand-in, as likely to quote Nietzsche or Conrad as to gild a lily pad.

What Hamlet calls “this most excellent canopy, the air,” overhangs Orfeo Group’s zanily laid-back rendition of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), which is being performed outdoors on the Publick Theatre stage in Christian Herter Park (through August 9). Neither are the plays of Shakespeare the only things squeezed by Orfeo, which reduces the title of this parodic staple to The Complete WOWS(A) and shaves the price of admission on Thursdays to nothing. The popular RSC spoof has been purveying its low-comedy take on the lofty art of the Bard since 1987, but Orfeo throws in a party atmosphere, beer for sale, and an urgency of its own. Since the Publick’s lighting and sound systems are down for repairs, the show starts at 6:45 pm, the light that through yonder window breaks is natural, and when it’s gone, the rest is silence.

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