If you have ever experienced unexpected trauma or had a near-miss, you know the feelings of regret, incomprehensibility and what-ifs that follow as we try to make sense of what we have -- or might have -- gone through. What if I hadn't missed that flight? What if I had stayed home during the storm? I wish I had taken a different route and had not gotten caught in traffic.
The characters in "After the Quake," a play based on a pair of stories from a 2002 book by Japanese surrealist Haruki Murakami, have similar urgent questions swirling about them, albeit in an oblique manner.
As Japan grapples with the results of the recent earthquake, tsunami and meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, the play seems fresh. But this show was adapted by Frank Galati from Murakami's stories in response to an earlier tremblor -- the Kobe earthquake of 1995.
Directed simply and effectively by Amy Rummenie for Walking Shadow Company, "Quake" interweaves two stories -- the fanciful "Superfrog saves Tokyo" and regret-filled "Honey Pie." In the first, a frog appears to a midlevel banker named Katigiri (Kurt Kwan), teaming up with him to do battle with underground forces and prevent an earthquake.
The other narrative revolves around three college friends. Jock Takasuki (Kwan) hooks up with Sayoko (Katie Bradley) and has a child with her even though it is the shy writer Junpei (Eric Sharp) who truly loves her.
Director Rummenie and her creative team bring an understated touch to these stories. There is no fussing over costumes for the frog, for example. And the set, by Steve Kath, is beautiful in its spareness -- a raised platform floor with a table that goes up and down and also is used as a bed. Composer Cory Grossman accompanies the action on viola.
That creative space allows the actors to enter into the realm of incomprehensibility in a palpable way. We feel it in their breathing, in their pregnant pauses and in the emotions under their words. Kwan has the widest range, and delivers both the cocksure jock and the mystified banker with aplomb.
Sharp inhabits Junpei with subtlety, giving us the writer as we often know him -- diffident and effacing.
As Sayoko, Bradley gives us a woman waiting for her true love to step up. And Natalie Tran, who plays the child Sala, is a sweet presence.
In the end, "Quake" suggests another natural event, this one not half as traumatic. It's like a light rain falling on us, causing chills that trigger a thousand what-ifs.