Now extended thru March 18th
Skillful direction, talented cast can’t save bloated script
|Steep Theatre presents|
|Earthquakes in London|
Review by Lauren Whalen
It’s not a good sign when I ask myself, “why does this play exist?” Earthquakes in London is one of those times. Normally I love Steep Theatre for its provocative yet moving material, its gifted ensemble and its ability to challenge societal norms through its productions. Earthquakes in London is not one of those productions. With a bloated running time of three hours, Mike Bartlett’s contemporary drama tries to present a gripping saga of family and natural phenomena. Instead, it’s dull, overly long and by the end consists of a whiny, unsympathetic protagonist, a supporting cast that’s far more interesting and a lot of unnecessary content. Not even Jonathan Berry’s always-stellar direction and several terrific performances can save what ultimately should have ended up in the Steep Theatre slush pile.
Earthquakes in London centers around three sisters who were abandoned by their scientist father, after their mother died of cancer. Sarah (Cindy Marker), the eldest, has risen to a top government position but struggles in her marriage to the recently laid off Colin (Alex Gillmor). Jasmine (Sarah Price), who was just a baby when her father walked out, is now a university dropout whose chief objective is to antagonize her older siblings. And middle sister Freya (Lucy Carapetyan) is uncertain about soon bringing a child into the world. Her husband Steve (Nick Horst) has recently left, supposedly on business, but is he actually cheating on her? All this and more comes to a head as London prepares for a chaotic natural phenomenon.
Bartlett’s story could have made for a compelling family drama with a side of climate change, had it been at least an hour shorter. Cutting the runtime wouldn’t have been difficult; the playwright could have started with the random musical numbers that were an annoying attempt at whimsy. In fact, though wonderfully played by the always-delightful Price, the character of Jasmine could have been eliminated entirely. Another frustrating aspect of Earthquakes in London is that save a precious few exceptions, most characters don’t grow or change at all over the course of three hours. Finally, though central character Freya has her empathetic moments, her self-sabotaging and constant bellyaching gets very old, very fast.
Earthquakes in London is almost but not quite saved by director Berry’s way with even the stickiest of scripts. As he did with the far-superior Posh, Berry skillfully manipulates a large cast in Steep’s tiny space, moving them like chess pieces and making transitions seem like magic. Alison Siple’s costume design effectively distinguishes every single character, not an easy feat as most actors play multiple roles. Thanks to casting director Caroline Neff, the cast is a mix of ensemble members and talented guests, all of whom make the most out of every moment. Besides Price, Carapetyan wrings every ounce of empathy from Freya, and Horst plays her well-meaning spouse to a T. Jim Poole is darkly funny as the sisters’ long-lost father, and Omer Abbas Salem has some hilarious bits as Sarah’s assistant. Ensemble member Alex Gillmor, a standout in last year’s Posh, shines as Sarah’s befuddled, lost husband Colin – his awkward but utterly unself-conscious rendition of an Arcade Fire song is the highlight of the show, and the one musical interlude I genuinely enjoyed. Amber Sallis makes her stellar Steep debut as one of Freya’s students, a boy on the autism spectrum named Peter who ends up serving as Freya’s conscience and guardian angel.
Thanks to Berry’s direction and an exceptional cast, Earthquakes in London is watchable at least. Sadly, it all comes down to the script, and playwright Bartlett is in dire need of an editor. Though there’s a lot to like about Earthquakes, ultimately I can’t recommend three hours that should have been two.
Earthquakes in London continues through
March 4th March 18th at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $25 general admission, $35 reserved and $10 access tickets, and are available online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at SteepTheatre.com. (Running time: 3 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Lee Miller and Gregg Gilman
Nate Faust (Young Robert, and others), Leea Ayers (Grace, and others), Lucy Carapetyan (Freya), Nick Horst (Steve), Greg Geffrard (Tom), Sarah Price (Jasmine), Cindy Marker (Sarah), Omer Abbas Salem (Simon, Roy, and others), Alex Gillmor (Colin), Indra Andreshak (Liberty, Casey, and others), Amber Sallis (Peter, Emily, and others), Peter Moore (Carter, and others), Donna McGough (Mrs. Andrews, Maryna), Patricia Donegan (Woman, and others), Jim Poole (Robert), Martin Diaz-Valdes, Alex Elam, Lawrence Garner, Katie Gonzalez, Juwan Lockett, Abby Pajakowski (understudies)
behind the scenes
Jonathan Berry (director), Jon Ravenscroft (stage manager), Arnel Sanciano (set design), Brandon Wardell (lighting design), Matt Chapman (sound design), Alison Siple (costume design), Kat Powers (prop design), Joseph Burke (projection design), Kendra Thulin (dialect coach), Denise Yvette Serna (assistant director), Ellen Willett (production manager), Lee Miller, Gregg Gilman (photographs)