There’s a rift between Joe and Hannah, the couple at the epicenter of New Edgecliff Theatre’s Fringe piece, Quake: A Closet Love Story, by Tyler Olson. Once upon a time, the two were married and in love. But recently, they’ve split. When the lights come up on the pair, they are hard at work dividing their possessions right down the middle. As they argue about what to do with a faulty air mattress and a possibly rancid Y2K kit (complete with astronaut ice cream) a massive earthquakes hits, trapping them together inside a steel-lined closet.
Quake’s premise is terrifying: trapped alive with an ex, watching each other slowly dehydrate and starve to death. Oh, and no bathroom. Actors Lara Miller and Justin Baldwin make the challenging confines of their closet-sized set space look easy, climbing over one another, standing on boxes, wrapping around each other for comfort. Baldwin’s comedic gifts are evident and give the show a lot of its levity. Hannah, possibly a touch claustrophobic, is more manic, but Miller's performance is measured and strong. Hannah experiences moments of real panic and then others of calm and clear-headedness.
A different play with the same set of given circumstances might have been a real, bona fide, almost unwatchable horror story. Or just terribly boring. But while the outcome looks grim for Joe and Hannah, their time together in the closet is charming, even moving and very funny. They reconnect, remembering times when they were happy together. They support one another, joking and singing songs when things start to feel especially hopeless. The play and performances have heart and gravity. But Joe and Hannah never really try very hard to get out of the closet. It’s hard to believe that two young people, with renewed love, would so easily resign themselves to simply wasting away.
Quake is well-done: a bittersweet story about realizing very important things at the worst possible moment, but also, before it’s too late. And in a very small space.