On our planet’s frightening social and political seismographic scale, and by any theatrical measure, “Earthquakes in London” is definitely a shaker, especially if climate change and the human condition concern you.
Now playing at the Electric Lodge in Venice, weekends through March 1, the ambitious, edgy Rogue Machine Theatre’s production demands the conviction and talents of those on and behind the stage, and the attention and apprehensions of the audience
Talk about being timely, what with the world’s increasingly freakish weather, witness the dreadful floods abroad and disastrous fires here and in Australia. And then, of course for us in California beyond the compromising of our fragile environmental safeguards by a twisted Trump administration, there is the constant threat of earthquakes. In London, too, one might add without divulging the play’s plot.
As the playwright Mike Bartlett has notably proffered in his final tragic scenes of death and divorce there is a hope for the future, however faint and fantastical. Though if so, for us worldly wizened it would be a victory over the reality of the planet today, its possible extinction and the frightening denial by its mindless leaders.
But the play must go on, and despite its dire predictions and backdrop of flickering montage of disasters, actually hints optimistically at a better, life affirming destiny, embodied naturally in a new born. And to think that the play was first performed a decade ago in the once and future land of angry young men speaks to the awe-inspiring prescience of art and the imposing imagination of Bartlett.
Kudos also to the moral commitment of Rogue Machine to stage the provocative production, which consists no less than 17 actors performing with professional confidence in some 90 parts careening about a segmented stage in an intimate non equity theatre.
This conglomeration could easily have been a daunting three hours, with a intermission, if not for the innovative co direction of Hollace Starr and John Perrin Flynn, who thankfully speed the action in well orchestrated short bursts of word plays in overlapping focused scenes in varying time frames.
Helping is the imaginative counterpoint of whimsical musical numbers one of the principal characters listens to over her earphones and is brought to life by the multi talented cast. Particularly rousing was the song and dance rendition of “I Am Not a Robot,” that punches up and sends the second act forward to its dramatic finale.
Yes, there is a story line, involving three contrasting and personally challenged sisters, convincingly portrayed by Ava Bogle, Anna Khaja and Taylor Shurte. (Also appreciated was Shurte’s dancing.) Weaving them together in a grating codependency are their individual clashes with an estranged father,
Though not very sympathetic, self absorbed and guilt ridden, the father is nonetheless insightful, and not incidentally has the best and most telling lines. It helps that they delivered with a riveting aplomb by a believable Ron Bottitta.
Some 60 years plus year ago the play “Look Back In Anger” by John Osborne offered a contrast to the then escapist theater scene with a blast of social realism. Born also of Britain, Bartlett’s “Earthquakes in London” just may be a harbinger of desperately needed environmental awareness, a sort of look forward in anger — and angst.
Earthquakes in London | Rogue Machine Theatre | Electric Lodge | thru Mar 1
Sam Hall Kaplan is a cultural critic who in a maverick past has written for the NY Times, LA Times and Reuters. Books include The Dream Deferred and L.A. Lost and Found. His love of theater dates back to his off-Broadway youth and being a gofer to the legendary Brooks Atkinson.
photo credit: john perrin flynn