Ain’t Real Theatre Company’s Quake: A Love Story begins in the basement of a sparring couple as they go through their collective possessions after a bitter separation.
If you’ve been through a break-up - first-hand or vicariously - it’s a scene you will instantly recognize: one person wants to get it over with while the other is easily distracted by sentimental objects; one person says they want to stay together while the other person states that the damage done to the relationship is irreparable; one person delves into the sentimental history of each object while the other would clearly like to forget. They yell, scream, joke, cajole, taunt, accuse, divert, laugh and ultimately (sigh) pack. It’s a sad scene, full of bile and history, and the only saving grace is that after a few hours of packing, the relationship will come to its merciful conclusion.
Nature interferes in the form of an earthquake and thrusts upon the couple two even more complicated problems. The first is that the man falls and suffers what appears to be a severe concussion and dysphasia. This would be fine but for the second problem which is that the basement door, due to the power of the earthquake, is now locked and they have no way to get out.
The remainder of the play deals with the couple’s efforts to survive: they pee in jars, they collect and drink water from a leak in the ceiling, they try to conserve the remaining wattage in their overhead light, they try to make themselves comfortable on an inflatable air mattress. Between these scenes, the actors address the audience directly with facts about the power, effects and comparisons of the largest earthquakes in the history of the planet. These interludes highlight the profound effects earthquakes can have on the lands they visit and provide philosophical insights into disruption of the couple’s deteriorated relationship.
These elements are compelling but don’t quite gel. The interludes require leaps of imagination and logic that don’t always connect to the action. The production doesn’t effectively build momentum to give the audience a sense of the toll the injury, the lack of food and water and the passage of time has affected them. The elements exist but the production team could make better use of them, to tease more dynamics from the couple’s relationship and build more tension from their seemingly impossible situation.
But there is much to admire. Coming in at a crisp 65 minutes, Quake: A Love Story is refreshingly straightforward. It wastes nothing. Tyler Olsen’s taut script focuses on the immediacy of the couple’s situation, break up and entrapment: the former is full of anger while the latter transforms that rage into a scary dependency. Director Trevin Cooper stages the action precisely, using little details like the jars of pee and a digital stopwatch to intensify the severity of their plight. And actors Kelly Kilgore and Justin Baldwin don’t miss a step in their portrayal of a couple at the end of their expiration date.