‘Earthquakes in London’: Aftershock of an epic play about climate change
Ava Bogle and cast members / John Perrin Flynn

VENICE, Calif.—Rogue Machine’s West Coast premiere of award-winning British playwright Mike Bartlett’s Earthquakes in London is, according to the company’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. This one is mainly for more daring theatergoers and environmentalists who take their drama and politics seriously.

With the following caveat: That 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.

Mari Weiss, Ron Bottitta, James Liebman / John Perrin Flynn

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.

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 her 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 a bit like jumping into one of those tomes by Thomas Pynchon, Jonathan Franzen and/or for that matter, James Joyce’s Ulysses.

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 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 slam into Venice Beach. Hope I’m not riding the Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier when it happens!)

Taylor Shurte and Christian Telesmar / John Perrin Flynn

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 companies to toss at its audience. Bravo!

Rogue Machine Theatre’s West Coast premiere production of Earthquakes in London plays at 8:00 p.m. Fri. and Sat., and 2:00 p.m. Sun. through March 1 at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice 90291. For ticket info call (855) 585-5185 or go to the company website.


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian/critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.