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A shaky start doesn't damage Quake's impact

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No actors were trepanned in the making of this play. - COURTESY STAR BAR PLAYERS
  • Courtesy Star Bar Players
  • No actors were trepanned in the making of this play.

The Star Bar Players seldom put on traditional works, so you should know going into Quake that it's not exactly a "play." The script reads more as performance poetry, interspersed with scenes that launch from this side of the absurd and land in the surreal.

Premise-wise, it starts off simple. Protagonist Lucy (Ambrosia Feess-Armstrong) tries to discover herself through finding love, traveling across the country and encountering men who never satisfy for long, from a lonely woodsman to a coffee-shop intellectual to a high-energy mountain biker. But the audience soon learns that Lucy is also following the trail of That Woman, an infamous serial killer who has become a kind of hero-figure to her.

That Woman (Lisa Siebert) easily serves as the most enthralling part of the play. She has tough material to work with, soliloquies about science and astronomy and, well, murder, but Siebert manages to deliver her lines with the pent-up energy of a shaken soda can, like she's right on the edge of manic. It's easy to see why Lucy's intrigued.

The audience comes to learn that Lucy's defining trait is that she's hungry. She wants something, but never quite knows what it is. That's why one can forgive the play for giving her few personality traits outside of that. She wants to be That Woman, and sometimes channels that kind of aloof confidence, but more often than not she reads naïve, and her demeanor changes based on whomever she's interacting with.

The flow of the play, including Feess-Armstrong's portrayal of Lucy, reads inconsistent at first. That opening soliloquy rates stellar, and she delivers it with perfect poetic tenor as though she's slamming it. But then the next few scenes feel staged, a little unrealistic (even for a surreal play).

The actors face a challenging job, no doubt. Single scenes encapsulate months — or years, it's unclear — in minutes, and somehow the actors have to convey that passage of time while staying in character. Plus, with only two or three props and some ambient noise to suggest setting, it's difficult to keep the pace moving.

But the flow gradually picks up. By the time Lucy has met That Woman and shared a few dream sequences, Feess-Armstrong settles into the character. And those poetic soliloquies are always on-point.

The supporting cast, Bob Kopp, Brian McClure, Estephany Sedas and Gabriel Espinoza-Lira, deserves a shout-out for the sheer number of vastly different characters they portray. At curtain call, I was frankly astonished to see only six actors onstage.

Trigger warning: Be aware that one scene involves a rather violent sexual assault. Star Bar handles it well — it's not gratuitous, too long or explicit — but it's jarring. However, Feess-Armstrong delivers her absolute strongest performance in its aftermath.

At its core, Quake functions as a feminist play, in spite of the emphasis it places on romance. Toward the end, it's much less about finding love and more about finding stability, something that neither Lucy nor That Woman have, and it touches on the importance of knowing the self.

Provided you're okay with the esotericism of the script, with its meditations on identity and science, Quake is worth the watch. Though non-traditional, it's artistic, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, and definitely intriguing.

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