The award winning British playwright, Mike Bartlett (Cock, Bull, King Charles III), won an Olivier prize for his play, Earthquakes in London, in 2010. This prescient play is more meaningful now than when it was first produced. With the climate running rampant due to evermore vigorous human activity that shows no sign of slowing down, Earthquakes in London is entertaining and scary, funny and tragic. It is a pastiche, a potpourri, a potent mix of styles and themes.
The action centers around a broken family of three sisters, a remote father, and a dead mother. The eldest, Sarah (Anna Khaja), a high government official tasked with environmental matters, is in a loveless marriage with her husband Colin (Jeff Lorch). Middle sister, Freya (Ava Bogle), the keystone of the play, is heavily, and unhappily, pregnant in the third trimester. Youngest sister, Jasmine (Taylor Shurte), is a bold, resentful, outrageous, freewheeling nineteen-year-old. She is an exhibitionist who joyfully performs an ecologically themed striptease. Ironically, her lithe, supple body wiggles and writhes to the delight of an audience that couldn’t care less. Neither does she.
A series of relatively short scenes center on the three women. Freya is depressed and states over and over again that she doesn’t want this baby. Her writer husband, Steve (James Liebman), takes off for Scotland to talk with the sisters’ father, Robert (the ever powerful Ron Bottitta), who essentially abandoned the girls after the death of his wife. Robert is a prophet of doom, an environmentalist who sees the end of humanity.
In a play as vast and convoluted as Earthquakes in London, it is sufficient to say there are twists, turns, and surprises aplenty, with laughter and tears. After one particular scene of searing emotion, comes comic relief that calls to mind Macbeth’s porter. And a whiz-bang stunner spikes the end of Act I.
Earthquakes in London is more relevant today than it was a decade ago. The play calls attention to the pollution caused by jet airplanes, something that gets little play these days. Think about it. Thousands and thousands, perhaps millions of commercial airplanes, military planes, corporate planes, and private jets spewing exhaust into the upper atmosphere, as do rockets that are launched into the sky. Shall we talk about the ecological disasters caused by unending war? In an inspired bit of prescience, the playwright creates a character late in the play that is the emotional twin of Greta Thunberg.
The cast of seventeen, keenly directed by Hollace Starr and John Perrin Flynn, fills the stage with a vivid variety of distinct characters. Several full cast production numbers feature delightful choreography with exuberant singing and dancing, an unexpected joy on this voyage of Earthship Titanic. For the record, the splendid ensemble includes, in addition to those mentioned above, Michael James Bell, Zoey Bond, Turner Frankosky, Kaitlin Kelly, Kevin Phan, Sara Shearer, Jonathan P. Sims, Paul Stanko, Christian Telesmar, Mari Weiss, and Miranda Wynne.
Rogue Machine’s fine creative team consists of David Mauer (Scenic Design); Matt Richter (Lighting Design); Christopher Moscatiello (Sound Design); Halei Parker (Costume Design); Marwa Bernstein (Choreographer); Michael Redfield (Musical Director); Michelle Hanzelova, (Graphic and Projection Design); and Victoria Hoffman (Casting Director). And don’t forget the invaluable assistants—Taylor Decker (Assistant Costume Designer); Kaitlin Chang (Assistant Lighting Designer); Lauren Jennerjohn (Assistant Choreographer). David Mauer is Technical Director and Joshua Chamberlain is Assistant Director. Cool-handed Amanda Bierbauer manages the show with unquestionable aplomb.
The West Coast Premiere of Earthquakes in London, produced by John Perrin Flynn and Co-Producer Amy Helene Carlson runs through March 1 at Rogue Machine Theatre (in the Electric Lodge), 1416 Electric Ave. Venice, California.