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Epic: From Cock to Aftershock

Ed Rampell: This three hour-ish, UK-set tour-de-force takes a deep dive into the pressing subject of climate - as well as family - crisis.
Earthquakes in London

Anna Khaja and Ron Bottitta

EARTHQUAKES IN LONDONTheatre Review

Rogue Machine’s West Coast premiere of award winning British playwright Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London is, according to Rogue’s artistic director and the drama’s co-director John Perrin Flynn, “quite simply, the best play I have read about global warming.” This three hour-ish, UK-set tour-de-force takes a deep dive into the pressing subject of climate - as well as family - crisis. It is an epic play that goes back and forth in time and is mainly for more daring theatergoers and environmentalists who take their drama and politics seriously.

This three hour-ish, UK-set tour-de-force takes a deep dive into the pressing subject of climate - as well as family - crisis.

With the caveat that said ticket buyers have slept well the night before and hence can be very alert and pay close attention to the complex characters and storylines that shift on theatrical tectonic plates. For example, the pivotal role of the climate scientist father, Robert, is played by Paul Stanko as a young man and then in his maturity by Ron Bottitta. Robert is being wooed by energy companies, so we see him before and after - but this might confuse some viewers.

Selling out is a recurring theme in this play and best embodied by the beautiful Anna Khaja as the biblically-named Sarah, who is a UK government minister (I believe a member of the Liberal Democrats) confronted with the option of selling out the public sector for a more lucrative job with the private sector - as well as committing infidelity with the corporate Carter (Jonathan P. Sims), who tries to make Sarah offers she can’t refuse. How Sarah resolves this spiritual conundrum is anything but humdrum and a dramatic highlight of Earthquakes.

Mari Weiss, Ron Bottitta, James Liebman

Mari Weiss, Ron Bottitta, James Liebman

If Sarah is unfaithful, it is reflective of her marriage to the under-achieving Colin (Jeff Lorch), which is on the rocks. (Nevertheless, Colin stirs her when he tells Sarah he preferred her when she was a radical rock thrower instead of a paper shuffler.) It doesn’t help matters that Sarah’s much younger sister Jasmine (the passionate Taylor Shurte) acts seductively towards Colin. She also performs a sexy semi-nude exotic dance in a club setting so time considerations aside, adults will probably want to hire babysitters for their tykes and leave them at home. Christian Telesmar’s African climate activist Tom - who is no Uncle Tom - joins the rollicking fray.

Rogue Machine, a recent Ovation Award winner for Best Season and one of our most envelope-pushing theater companies, previously produced Bartlett’s sexually charged Cock. But in Earthquakes, while the love lives of the dramatis personae are indeed part of the story, their personal stories are interwoven with and secondary to the overarching, overwhelming theme of the climate emergency we are currently undergoing. Experiencing this sprawling epic is, I imagine, a bit like jumping into one of those tomes by Thomas Pynchon, Jonathan Franzen and/or for that matter, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

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Taylor Shurte and Christian Telesmar

Taylor Shurte and Christian Telesmar

In terms of length, Earthquakes is reminiscent of another recent Rogue science-themed work, the brilliant Oppenheimer (James Liebman, who played the titular atomic physicist, is on hand here as Steve, husband of the pregnant visionary Freya, portrayed by Ava Bogle). And like all of the aforementioned weighty works Earthquakes is most likely to be enjoyed and appreciated by the more adventurous theater venturer and by those absorbed by the impending climate catastrophe that is looming over us all. (Any day now I expect an iceberg to split off from Antarctica and to slam into Venice Beach. Hope I’m not riding the Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier when it happens!)

The large cast is tightly directed by Flynn and Hollace Starr. The action is enhanced by Michelle Hanzelova’s projections (which I believe includes animation, as well as montages), Christopher Moscatiello’s rocking soundtrack and David Mauer’s scenic design. Matt Richter’s lights contribute to some rock-’em-sock-’em stage special FX. Halei Parker’s costumes, such as old fashioned bathing suits, sometimes inject a note of wit and whimsy into a story some may find ponderous, helping to lighten the mood at times. There is also a little bit of live music tossed into the mythic mix.

Overall, this heady, ambitious apocalyptic concoction is the type of theatrical Molotov cocktail we’ve come to expect one of L.A.’s leading theater company’s to toss at its audience. Bravo!

Rogue Machine Theatre’s West Coast premiere production of Earthquakes in London plays 8:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays through March 1 at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Avenue, Venice, CA 90291. For ticket info: (855)585-5185 or https://www.roguemachinetheatre.com/.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

L.A.-based critic/film historian Ed Rampell co-authoredThe Hawaii Movie and Television Book.”  Rampell recently received a theatre critic award.