Magazine article American Theatre

Echo of an Earthquake: Haruki Murakami's Enigmatic Stories of Super-Frogs and Lost Souls Live an Alternate Life in the Theatre

Magazine article American Theatre

Echo of an Earthquake: Haruki Murakami's Enigmatic Stories of Super-Frogs and Lost Souls Live an Alternate Life in the Theatre

Article excerpt

Sitting in the darkened hall and listening to the lines of Steppenwolf Theatre Company's adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short-story collection after the quake, I had a thrill unavailable to anyone else in the audience--even to Murakami himself, had he been there (which may never happen)--because I was the one who wrote the very lines the actors were speaking.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

True, Murakami was the author of the original work I had translated, but those were my words. When, in the well-attended post-performance discussion, a member of the staff assured the audience of the fidelity of the adaptation by noting that "99 percent of the words you heard were Murakami's," I sat in the back of the theatre, violently shaking my head.

Okay, translator's tantrum aside, it really was a thrill to hear those familiar words being spoken by a live cast, to rediscover the dramatic force of the original, and to see the audience's openly emotional response to one of Murakami's most affecting works. It was a wonderful night of theatre.

It seems a shame to me that Murakami remains unwilling to attend any performances of his fiction adapted for the theatre. I've heard him say several times that he dislikes rereading his own works in Japanese because he sees only the flaws, but he enjoys reading them in English translation because then they seem like "someone else's writing." I can more or less understand why Murakami denied himself the dazzling theatrics of the United Kingdom-based Complicite's stage version of his The Elephant Vanishes--performed in Tokyo, Osaka, New York, London, Paris and a few other cities during 2003 and 2004--because it was in Japanese (with supertitles abroad), and he would have been embarrassed, he says, to hear his own words coming from the stage. (He has not seen the evocative film based on his story "Tony Takitani" either.) Adapter and director Frank Galati's quietly energetic after the quake, however, is in English, so I'm not entirely sure what kept Murakami from making the trip to Chicago from Boston, where he is an artist-in-residence at Harvard University for 2005-06. Perhaps the easy two-hour drive to New Haven, Conn., will lure him down to Long Wharf Theatre (where after the quake will run Feb. 22-March 19, after closing Feb. 19 in Chicago).

The stage version of after the quake combines two stories from Murakami's collection of six, all indirectly related to the earthquake that devastated his home and the area around the city of Kobe in 1995. The collection portrays a cast of lonely characters, with only a few of Murakami's trademark forays into the surreal, but Galati's version combines one of the most solidly down-to-earth stories--"Honey Pie," about a short-story writer who longs for the woman he lost to his best friend--with the most wildly fantastic one, "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo," in which a six-foot-tall, highly literate talking frog visits a bank employee to seek his help in fighting a monstrous subterranean worm that is threatening to destroy Tokyo. Both stories (in fact, all six stories in the collection) are set in time one month after the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Galati's imaginative fantasy-story-within-a-realistic-story dramatic structure gives tangible--and often hilarious--representation to the internal stresses of Murakami's more earthbound characters. Just as Murakami presents his alternate worlds as matter-of-fact parts of everyday life, the fantastic side of the play is presented without special effects or stylization to distinguish it from the realistic side: The two blend seamlessly.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

THE ORIGINAL AFTER THE QUAKE is a thematically unified volume that suggests people are in critical need of reaching out to one another and finding meaning in connection. The stage production captures Murakami's uncanny ability to treat the big questions in life--What's it all about? Where do human values of love and commitment fit into the cosmic scheme of things? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.