Over the course of Mike Bartlett’s three-hour play EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON, now in its U.S. premiere at Steep Theatre Company, he attempts to tackle themes both universal—quite literally atmospheric and cosmological—and personal. The result is a sprawling play with seismic shifts in tone ranging from the hyperrealistic to the experimental to the just plain bizarre. And because EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON attempts to pack so much into its run-time, it never landed on any compelling takeaways for me.
The play follows the arc of three sisters living in London—environmental minister Sarah (Cindy Marker), the pregnant and shaky Freya (Lucy Carapetyan), and university student Jasmine (Sarah Price)—and their estranged father Robert (Jim Poole), a climatologist who believes that the destruction of the planet and humanity is eminent.
While the majority of the play takes place in the present, it also takes audiences back to the 1960s and far into the future. These chronological shifts, much like the piece itself, feel uneven. EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON seems to teeter along its own fault, never settling in any one place.
Fortunately, under the direction of Jonathan Berry, the production’s ensemble handles this marathon of a play with grace and command. While I did not care for many of the moments in EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON, I must say the actors handled each and every one of them superbly, fully giving themselves over to the ever-changing shifts in tone. And as the sisters at the center of the story, Marker, Carapetyan, and Price have certainly found a way to bestow a great deal of humanity onto their characters. In Marker, we see both the headstrong politician and protective older sister, but also a woman openly struggling in her relationship with her husband Colin (Alex Gillmor). Carapetyan gives a moving performance and makes all of Freya’s eccentricities and worries believable, even in scenes where the content of the play itself befuddles. As Jasmine, Price finds a new balance between attitude and vulnerability. This play is undoubtedly demanding, and the fifteen-member ensemble meets the challenge readily.
And while content-wise EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON had me scratching my head (though I enjoyed Bartlett’s KING CHARLES III at Chicago Shakespeare Theater recently), this is a visually compelling production. Arnel Sanciano’s sleek, modern set design allows Steep’s intimate stage to transform into a wide variety of locales, aided by Brandon Wardell’s lighting design. Matt Chapman’s sound design and compositions add a nice atmospheric touch, and Joseph A. Burke’s projection designs are simply inspired.
While I applaud Berry and Steep’s ensemble for jumping into this piece head-on, EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON remains a faulty and erratic play that does not command its epic length.
EARTHQUAKES IN LONDON runs through March 4. For more information visit steeptheatre.com.
Photo by Lee Miller
Read the original review on PerformInk.