How to Survive an Earthquake doesn’t quite strike the chord you expect. Set against the backdrop of the 2010 Haiti earthquake we meet two sisters who are severely rocked by their own emotional traumas. The story in itself is a simple one: Stephanie has betrayed Jane by sleeping with her husband Jake, a betrayal made worse by the fact Jane was pregnant with their child at the time. Ultimately, the marriage between Jane and Jake falls apart after the death of their child, and Stephanie leaves to become a UN peacekeeper. Jane is left to take care of their ailing mother and it is only at the latter’s funeral that the three are united.
The main issue with the script is that the writing is inconsistent. Beautiful tracts of stream-of-consciousness sit awkwardly with the sisterly banter and the largely overdrawn female characters marginalize the males. Using the Haitian earthquake as a mere backdrop against which to play out this personal drama is unnecessary and devalues both the tragedy of the incident and the poignancy of the story itself.
Luckily, there are a few saving graces. Sarah Plummer’s rendition of Jane is nuanced, finely tuned to the enormous emotional baggage she carries and with the exception of a few wooden moments she is consistently engaging. Having to play both Steph and the mother is a challenge that Jessica Gerger does overcome, but Glenda Linscott’s direction is clearly lacking. The suspension of disbelief is already tested with the numerous flashbacks and the added convolution of a daughter playing a mother responding to another daughter is to say the least confusing, and undermines the role of the mother in this drama.
The best assets of this production are the original music by the Berlin Sirens. An evocative soundscape it is easy to see how this script could be developed into a film and under Jason Bovaird’s beautiful lighting it does have potentially have more appeal as a cinematic feature than as a theatrical production.