Somewhere in California, Hannah and Joe face divorce. Hannah enters a small, metal-lined closet to divide their belongings. Bitterness and pain underlie the act. Hannah harangues Joe. He joins her in the tight space to help. Shortly afterwards, a much more seismic event occurs. ‘‘Til death do us part,’ takes on new meaning in Quake: A Closet Love Story, written, directed, and performed by Tyler Olsen (Raw Red Meat Productions). Olsen pairs with Zuzka Sabata in this physically defined, dell’arte inspired Fringe work. Quake is truly unique, working on multiple levels.
Olsen and Sabata masterfully explore the silent, inexplicable rift that so often occurs in intimate relationships. Hannah wails, “I want things to go back to the way they were… before everything!” Joe counters, “I love you, Hannah.” What exactly is the problem? Hannah’s reply is standard, “Things have changed.” Marriage, work, relocation. Life has quite simply… become complicated.
What lies ahead is as important as their shared history. Their very lives hinge on their interdependence.
In the passage outside, the quake has shifted a player piano, blocking their escape. There is no food, and only a trickle of rainwater through a roof leak. Communication is erratic. A battered boombox loses battery power. Joe’s speech is slurred from concussion. Even their chance for sleep is a bust, as their old air mattress leaks. These elements all play literally and figuratively into their relationship woes. Over the course of what may be weeks, the two joke, jab, and fade in and out of consciousness. As things become dire, the lone light bulb fades out. Time stands still.
Highlighting the intensity are several spoken word and musical dance interludes. Joe and Hannah will break out in pop songs, humorously beat boxing their way through hopes, fears, memories, and dreams. These moments arise both as disconnected hallucinations and a mirror to the couple’s current reality. The singing is perfectly blended, pure and lovely. The last song transports in a wholly moving moment.
By play’s end, an entire emotional landscape has unfolded. The extraneous is stripped away and we see where Hannah and Joe began. Olsen and Sabata brilliantly mine the metaphor of relationship disaster, all in the space of an hour and a few square feet. There are no Titanic proportions here. Quake shows us it is possible to “heal up” even the widest, darkest chasm, when harmony lies at the core.