after the quake
Based on “Honey Pie” and “Superfrog Saves Tokyo”
From the novel after the quake by Haruki Murakami
Adapted for the stage and directed by Frank Galati
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production
In association with La Jolla Playhouse
Main Season · Thrust Stage
October 12–December 2, 2007
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Director Frank Galati won two Tony Awards for The Grapes of Wrath. Writer Haruki Murakami, author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore, earned Japan’s equivalent of the Pulitzer. Now the two talents collide in after the quake, a simple, gentle tale of life in the wake of earth-shaking disaster. A timid man woos an old flame, enchanting her anxious daughter with whimsical bedtime stories of a six foot frog’s fight to save Tokyo. In this poignant new play, we see that a storyteller can’t dispel the world’s woes, but he can teach a child—and himself—how to face fear.
Haruki Murakami · Author
Frank Galati · Adaptor and Director
James Schuette · Scenic Design
Mara Blumenfeld · Costume Design
James F. Ingalls · Lighting Design
Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman · Sound Design and Original Composition
Malcolm Ewen · Stage Manager
Erica Daniels · Casting
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Marissa Wolf · Assistant Director
Keith Parham · Assistant Lighting Designer
Rick Sims · Assistant Sound Designer
Andre Pluess · Music Arranger
Jeff Wichmann · Music Arranger
Jason McDermott · Music Arranger
Gemma Megumi Fa-Kaji · Sala
Paul H. Juhn · Katagiri / Takatsuki
Madison Logan V. Phan · Sala
Jennifer Shin · Sayoko / Nurse
Keong Sim · Narrator / Frog
Hanson Tse · Junpei
Jason McDermott · Cello
Jeff Wichmann · Koto
“Galati skillfully interweaves two evocative short stories and a haunting cello-and-koto score in a visually stunning, slyly comic and subtly affecting, multifaceted 80-minute reflection on fear, love, loneliness and the transformative powers of art.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“It’s an incredible gift wrapped in a very unusual package…a seductive theatrical invitation into the slightly off-kilter, pop-culture-rich world of Japanese author Haruki Murakami…surreal at times, quite fanciful and filled with sharp turns and dangerous curves…Galati’s direction is crisp and filled with wonderful surprises…The acting in the piece is charmingly open and inviting—and often a bit tongue-in-cheek.”—Contra Costa Times
“Beautifully introspective…A mysteriously poetic evening of theater that unlocks the secrets of metamorphosis…Exquisitely chiseled performances give the play a sense of delicacy that grounds Murakami’s leaps into the fantastical…The quirky beauty of Murakami’s fantasy reverberates in the mind like a half-remembered dream.”—San Jose Mercury News
“Best of all is the live music performed by Jason McDermott on cello and Jeff Wichmann on koto (a stringed instrument that, like the accordion does for Paris, immediately conjures Japan). In addition to the original compositions by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman, the duo also manages to work in the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ and ‘You Light Up My Life.’”—Oakland Tribune
Prologue: from the Artistic Director
Healing stories from the realm of the unconscious
All art traffics in the unknown. All art is an attempt to marry the impulses and movements of the unconscious with those of the conscious mind. Each arena informs the other; is intertwined with the other; changes, shapes and defines the other. However exploited by the artist, the relationship between the unconscious and conscious self is the centrifugal force of all creativity. To learn how to move within, among and between those two worlds is the job of the artist; to learn to dream while fully awake, to make visible the invisible, to live simultaneously in darkness and light.
This journey is on full display in after the quake, an adaptation for the stage of two short stories by Huruki Murakami. Conceived by the eminent director Frank Galati and first produced by our highly respected colleagues at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, after the quake is, on one level, an examination of the psychological upheaval caused by an earthquake: the shocks and aftershocks that serve to remind us of the fragility of life, the fear of death, the relief of having survived.
But Murakami and Galati are interested in a deeper set of experiences than those described by first reactions to the physical event of an earthquake. They move, literally and figuratively, into the realm of the unconscious to discover not only the source of our personal and collective trauma, but the source of our healing. Galati has ingeniously fused two stories to illuminate this landscape: a child cannot sleep at night and needs the balm of a story, a story so powerful that it has the magical ability to speak about the unspeakable; a superhero in the person of a Frog tries to stave off a cataclysmic earthquake by enlisting the help of an unassuming bureaucrat. Together, the two stories weave a different tale about the limitations of the visible world; about the mysterious forces of change swirling all around us; about the very nature of our precarious existence. The “quake,” in Murakami’s world, shatters the assumptions of everyday life to reveal a strange, parallel universe full of ruthless power and terrible beauty; incomprehensible simplicity and comic truth. And we, audience and performers alike, armed with only our vulnerability and imagination, travel through the darkness into the light of each other, unified by what we can never truly know.
And left feeling more fully alive for it.
Enjoy this wonderful show.
Mastering the art of adaptation
Frank Galati on Murakami’s narrative world
My experience with Haruki Murakami is very personal, as I think must be the case with other readers who become fans of his work. There’s a kind of mysterious inner energy, an inner world that you find yourself getting in touch with when you read him. There’s also this plainness in his style—an unadorned, muscular but simple prose that conceals a great deal. It’s like the smooth surface of a pond that is incredibly, even unthinkably, deep. From this plain prose style, you can also tell that Murakami has studied Jack London and Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner—the great American writers, whom he uses as inspiration in his work in surprising ways. I was first introduced to Mr. Murakami’s writing when I read Sputnik Sweetheart. Then I read Norwegian Wood, and then The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and finally, after the quake, which I chose to adapt.
Murakami’s work is inherently theatrical in many ways. In fact, his novels and short stories are full of plays; sometimes the whole story can feel like a play. In many of the stories, impossible things occur, fantastical, surreal episodes. The worlds of the characters in these fictions bulge and bend as in a distorted mirror. They are porous worlds, because the border between reality and fiction, between the seen and the unseen, between life and death, is so incredibly undefined. In a Murakami story, you can just step into the invisible so easily, like you would turn and say, “Oh, it’s right here to my left, all I have to do is go this way, and I’m gone.” He’s mesmerized by that brutal fact—that living is a membrane of consciousness. You poke it, and you can easily go into a zone that is deathshrouded, which is tortured in a way that dreams are tortured.
And yet, in this Murakami terrain, we encounter human beings who are familiar. We recognize ourselves in them, even though they have extraordinary adventures. Most of the time they’re painfully ordinary people, people that are lackluster, that don’t have a very interesting life, but are thrust into what Beckett called “zones of abandonment:” those times in life when you’re marooned, you’re stranded, you’ve been dumped, you’ve been abandoned by your parents, you’ve simply been left. And that’s when their adventure begins.
At the same time, Murakami is a dramatist because of his obsession with small interior spaces. Even in a book as epic as The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, the characters spend a lot of the time in the kitchen, or in a motel room, a hospital room, a living room. These interiors, however, are just the first interiors we perceive, because then there are the interiors of the characters. In a Murakami story, it’s not so much where the characters go in the world, as where they go inside themselves.
Many of the stories in this collection end with waking and sleeping; in a way, the stories seem to be dreaming each other. In the end of one story, somebody falls asleep, and in the beginning of the next story, someone wakes up and it’s a different person. It’s a different story. In the last story of the collection (which in many ways mirrors the form of Joyce’s Dubliners), the main character, Junpei, is awake and is the guardian of Sayoko, the woman he loves, and Sala, her daughter. They’re sleeping, and he’s awake and alert. He promises them, in his heart, that he will never falter in his guardianship of their lives.
This waking/sleeping observer/observed is very reminiscent of the scene in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, when Vladimir looks at Estragon and he’s snoozing. And Vladimir says, “At me too, someone is looking, of me too, someone is saying, ‘He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on.’” That’s the most powerful articulation of our little lives: to be is to be perceived. I think that notion is very profoundly a part of Murakami’s aesthetic, as well as very much a part of the zeitgeist.
In addition to the references to works of literature, there’s also a tremendous interest in music and musical forms. A number of Murakami’s characters play piano, or are passionate musicians, or know a lot about music theory and music history. There are references to classical music, as well as references to popular music, like the Beatles, and to jazz and blues. In developing the adaptation, I didn’t think about a musical score or musical punctuation, at first. But very early in “Honey Pie,” the framing story in our production, Sayoko hums some Schubert, and I thought, “What if the Schubert that’s alluded to in the text becomes a motif in the performance?” I became very interested in the notion that an instrument like a cello might be another character, a kind of narrating musical personality.
Then, getting further into it, it seemed that a cello wasn’t enough. There needed to be a richer musical texture than just the cello, and a Japanese instrument called the koto came to mind. There’s a kind of sweeping melodic feeling in the deep, darkly colored tones of the cello, and the koto is percussive—it’s a very striking counterpoint to the cello. Andre Pluess, who is our sound designer, decided that the musicians should play live. That their living presence, the spontaneity of their participation, their witnessing of the unfolding of the stories would really contribute, in a simple, but a very rich way to the Murakami-esque nature of the whole production.
As appeared in Steppenwolf Theatre’s Backstage
Haruki Murakami: Quiet visionary goes global
By Madeleine Oldham
At 58 years old, Haruki Murakami shows no signs of abandoning the generations of young people who look to his books for their literary fix. Refusing to conform to established literary tradition and convention in his native Japan, Murakami invented his own prose style unlike anything his country had previously seen. He refers to the writings of Japanese literary purists as “getting more and more refined, to the point where they resemble a kind of bonsai,” implying that though they may be beautiful, they are also constrained and repressed. Murakami prefers his writing to let loose, to communicate energy, power, freshness and freedom. In the United States, he has transcended cult status to become an extremely well-known author—particularly among readers in their 20s and 30s—and his fans stretch across Europe, Asia and the Americas.
His writing is directly influenced by the global pop culture fusion that began emerging in the ‘60s and ‘70s (coinciding with the worldwide proliferation of television) and has only exploded since then. American culture in particular heavily influenced the young Murakami, who grew up on jazz, rock and roll and hardboiled detective novels. In a conversation with author Jay McInerney, Murakami described America’s cars and clothes and television at that time as impossibly “vibrant.” Young Japanese people embraced and adored American culture: “It was so shiny and bright that sometimes it seemed like a fantasy world. We loved that fantasy world. In those days, only America could afford such fantasies.”
The press regularly dialogues about how Japanese Murakami’s writing is, or, more specifically, isn’t; and how Japanese he intends it to be. A common criticism accuses him of worshipping the United States and ignoring his own culture, which in Japan amounts to a kind of betrayal. In typical Murakami fashion, he dismisses such questions: he writes what he writes; he is Japanese; there it is.
Born in Kyoto and raised in Kobe, Murakami grew up the son of not one but two teachers of Japanese literature. (He admits that his later career may have partially stemmed from rebellion against that.) Determined not to succumb to the societal pull of becoming a company man, Murakami dropped out of college, where he had been majoring in cinema and theatre arts, and started a jazz bar that he ran for seven years.
It was not until the age of 29 that Murakami wrote his first work of fiction. He points to a particular moment where the idea became real to him: he was watching a baseball game, someone hit a double and suddenly the thought hit him that he could write a novel. So he did. This moment essentializes the kind of opaque simplicity that characterizes Murakami’s writing—what otherwise might be an incomprehensible leap of logic instead simply creates its own logic in Murakami’s books. His prose is direct and pleasingly accessible, but it belies his complex dreamscapes and intricate plot-weaving; his deceivingly simple language and imagery add up to something much richer than the sum of their parts.
Murakami’s writing explores the inner lives of characters living on the outskirts of public life. In the United States, we have a long legacy of celebrating the individual and idealizing the loner. The opposite is true in Japan, where success is often measured in how well a person can blend in with a group; it lacks a national appreciation for nonconformists. Murakami notes, “Japan is such a group-conscious society that to be independent is very hard. For instance, when I looked for an apartment in Tokyo, the real estate people didn’t trust me because as a writer, I was self-employed and didn’t belong to any company. Many people, especially young people, would like to be more independent and on their own. But it is very difficult and they suffer from feelings of isolation. I think that is one reason why young readers support my work.”
Murakami wrestles in his writing with questions of individualism and identity (which, incidentally, the Japanese language has no word for), as well as a recurring theme of abnormal things happening to normal people—people so ordinary that should they disappear, the world might not even notice. Some sort of outside force descends, often in the form of a fantastical person or creature, and confronts these nobodies with a challenge they cannot run from. Catapulted back into the throes of life, Murakami’s ordinary heroes often discover a newfound sense of place and purpose, albeit quietly. They transform—quintessential examples of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey—but do not aspire to the end glory that other heroes do. McInerney describes:
Even when he’s writing about relatively fantastic subjects, like spirit possession in sheep, Haruki Murakami’s sensibility is that, I think, of a skeptical realist. His narrator is inevitably Everyman, contemporary Tokyo edition, a kind of thirtyish urban male in a low-key white-collar job, like advertising or public relations, a somewhat passive fellow who doesn’t expect much out of life and who takes what comes to him with jaded equanimity.
Remarkable things do tend to befall these antiheroes of Mr. Murakami’s fiction. Their girlfriends commit suicide. Their friends turn into sheep. Their favorite elephants disappear into thin air. But they will be damned if they’re going to make a big deal out of it.
Unable to maintain his own status as an ordinary Joe, his popularity snowballed and Murakami became a household name in Japan. His celebrity made him uncomfortable and he left Japan for the United States in search of a return to anonymity. His self-imposed exile afforded him an opportunity to write about Japan from the outside. In keeping with his personal fascination with people who drop out of society, he became one himself.
But in 1995, two national tragedies left Japan reeling in their wake. A devastating earthquake struck Murakami’s childhood home of Kobe, the large-scale loss and destruction the likes of which he had never before seen. His parents survived, but their house did not. Following hard upon the heels of the earthquake, the Aum Shinrikyo cult bombed the busy Tokyo subway system at rush hour with poisonous sarin gas, killing 12 people and severely wounding over 50 others. Murakami realized that the time had come for him to return home. In a 2000 conversation with author Jonathan Lethem, Murakami describes the six stories in after the quake as
…having one theme: what happened in February 1995. There was an earthquake in Kobe in January 1995, a month before. And there was a sarin gas attack in March 1995. So, February 1995 is sandwiched between the two incidents…And I think 1995 is a very critical year for my country. It was a turning point of our history. I was in the States when those things happened in 1995. I was in Cambridge, Mass. I heard that news and I thought, this is a time for me to come home. It’s just like F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1929. He was in Europe when he heard news of the market crash…and he thought, it’s time for him to come home…
Murakami now resides in Tokyo. His worldwide popularity continues to grow—his work has been translated into over 30 languages. His literary investigations into the strange world of subconscious dreams and identity, and their intersection with reality, have found a mass audience hungry for his unique perspective. The 15th English language Murakami book, After Dark, had its U.S. release in May of 2007. His name has even been mentioned as a serious contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. One hopeful website for a Japanese library convinced that he would win, overzealously reported that he had. But it may very well be only a matter of time until that does, in fact, happen.