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The La Jolla Playhouse
Saturday, August 4, 2007

Haruki Murakami’s reality slips into fantasy without warning and back again. His brand of magical realism is so grounded in the language of reality that it is often difficult to determine the boundaries between where that reality begins and ends.

“After the Quake” takes place in the month between the Kobe earthquake of 1995 and the Tokyo subway attacks that followed. Intertwining two of Murakami’s short stories – “Frog Saves Tokyo” and “Honey Pie” – the play is weighted with the horror of the natural disaster that has just occurred and tense with the anticipation of the man-made disaster approaching.

“Honey Pie’s” narrative follows three friends in a complex love triangle while “Frog Saves Tokyo” introduces us to a simple man who is chosen by a well-read frog to save Tokyo from impending doom. Together the contrasting tales combine intimate human emotions and the larger question of society’s very existence and the threats against it.

The staging is simple; the action is explained rather than shown. Significant shifts in environment or impending danger are indicated by sound and light alone. The effect is that we know things have changed, that our society has been altered and that our lives have been affected as a result, yet there is little outward manifestation of these changes. It is something we merely feel. Or sense.

The characters read the play to us, often times within their own plots, like we are children being told a story at bedtime. Yet the soothing and earnest deliveries mask an underlying anxiety suggesting that our sweet dreams may quickly turn to nightmares.

The surrealism for which Murakami is best known makes little visible appearance in the show. The one character that departs from the realm of Human is minimized and the physicality downplayed. Frog indicates his amphibian nature with small hints like green hands and bulging red glasses, yet his demeanor and physicality is unmistakably human. Whereas Murakami throws fantasy in the face of his readers and gives them no choice but to accept its appearance in their world, this production only asks the audience politely that we buy into this unusual occurrence. Though we are told that this is all very strange, it doesn’t look particularly different from our normal perception of reality. Perhaps that’s the strangest part about it.

At one point Frog, quoting one of his literary heroes – Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, or Nietzsche – explains that human fears lie in the imagination, that the imagination can be both our best friend and worst enemy. Indeed, Murakami points out that we construct reality in our heads and in doing so, we invite in the magical, the surreal, the unbelievable. But far from being unreal, they are perhaps more truthful and closer to our reality than reality itself.