Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


Demetri Vacratsis's Love Bombing After the Earthquake is not intentionally timely; there is no sense of Breathe Art Theatre Project capitalizing on recent global devastation. The predominant theme is grief — as much as these characters' environment has seen little rebuilding, the arrest and dysfunction in their emotional states are far more troublesome. The original script, also directed by Vacratsis, methodically digs into the ruins of four survivors to find whatever gasping, pulsing motivation remains to drive their damaged decisions.

The play starts with a bang, which grows into a rumble. In a precursor to a production filled with unsettling sounds, the four actors use the furniture and the concrete floor to simulate an earthquake to surprising effect. Fast forward one year, to parallel stories that begin as if at the edge of a canvas and creep toward an illuminating center. A wife is dead; a child is dead. A man is detained for questioning, but where and by what authority seems uncertain. A woman abandons everything that remained of her life in favor of perpetual reminiscence. One story appears much more dynamic than the other, but both are essential to the feel of this intense production.

Vacratsis shows the overlap between the stories by degrees, requiring the viewer to pay attention and connect the dots to at least some extent. In the wake of disaster, Lia (Shannon Ferrante) has forged a new life, anchored in mutual loss, with an unnamed woman (Caroline Price). Ferrante plays Lia like a raw nerve dulled from overexposure — a terrific display despite her near-constant fixation on some invisible point in the middle distance (not my favorite staging choice). In contrast to Lia's open book, Price is more mysterious, yet remains compelling and believable as the truth behind her character gradually surfaces. Far from the women's apartment, Tomas (Kevin Young) is suspected to have participated in a series of assassinations; someone is killing contractors in a plot to hobble the reconstruction of the unnamed city. Tomas's professions of innocence and cruel treatment at the hands of his interrogator (Andrew Huff) make him sympathetic, and Young carries the story's emotional center well. However, this plot's greatest asset is Huff, whose entrancingly percussive bad cop is a simultaneous source of entertainment and abject fear.

Valerie Bonasso's asymmetrical set design seems to widen the space of the Furniture Factory venue and allows for scenes to coexist and for unexpected focal points that keep the audience guessing. As mentioned above, the production also features the most aggressive sound design I've heard in recent memory, courtesy of Bonasso and Young, coupled with a lighting scheme by Bonasso and Sergio Forest that plunges into darkness and approximations of emergency lighting; together, the production elements are unapologetic about engendering discomfort and uncertainty in the viewer. They may feel unwelcome in the moment, but the sounds are an integral contribution to the intended atmosphere of unrest and resistance.

Although the play begins with big plot gaps and an unspoken promise to fill them, Love Bombing After the Earthquake provides a curious reversal, in which the importance of the story is usurped by the emotions and motivations of the characters themselves. Vacratsis has crafted a fast-moving script that provides sufficient answers without spelling everything out; what's truly important becomes clear in the play's final moments. Supported by fine performances and allowing no room for complacency, the title's vaguely threatening verbiage finds ample follow-through in a challenging and strung-out 90 minutes.


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