by Michael Bracken
Need another fix of Britannia after the royal wedding? Not to worry. Head over to 59E59, where Brits Off Broadway 2018 is in full swing, and get a load of Tremor in tiny Theater C. Originally produced by the Sherman Theatre in Wales, Brad Birch’s intense, riveting drama has crossed the Atlantic with its excitement fully intact.
Survivors of a fatal bus accident four years earlier, Tom (Paul Rattray of Game of Thrones) and Sophie (Lisa Diveney) square off against each other in a simmering verbal confrontation that starts out strong and never looks back as the two-character play careens forward. On a bare round platform, punctuated by only a pair of stray children’s toys on the floor and a framed picture from Ikea suspended above, the former lovers revisit the accident and the events that followed it with distinctly different perspectives.
Physically, it seems like an unequal match. He’s a hulking bear of a guy with a booming voice, while her speech is more modulated and her presence less imposing. Yet she holds her own.
Sophie has sought Tom out, tracked him down, and shown up unannounced. Since they split up, shortly after the bus plunged off a bridge into a river, tragically killing most of its passengers, Tom has reinvented himself. He’s moved, married, started his own business, and fathered a one-year-old going on two. Sophie still lives in the same flat. She’s changed jobs, but it’s more of the same. She’s learned to drive and bought a car, but she has nowhere to go.
She didn’t land on Tom’s doorstep on a whim. The driver of the bus, dying of cancer and thinking they were still together, contacted her asking for their forgiveness. She’s already given hers. Tom wants none of it. But each is itching for a chance to say their piece, and they do so in a beautifully constructed back and forth that seems to never stop for air.
Central to the heated conversation is the police inquiry into what happened. We learn that the bus driver was a Muslim and that Tom was the key witness. The couple wanders in and out of accusatory mode, she claiming he played into the hands of the authorities and he chiding her for her double standard. While Sophie never directly accuses Tom, she castigates the press, the police, and the populace for their racial prejudice.
Hayley Grindle’s no-furniture set, a more relaxed version of the ring used by Cock a few seasons ago, is the perfect venue for this sparring match. Ace McCarron’s lighting pays constant attention to the Ikea artwork, a framed image of what looks like a ball of red tinsel.
It’s truly amazing how director David Mercatali keeps the production’s brisk pace on track, like a train that just won’t stop. The tension never lets up. You find yourself hanging on every word, engrossed in the dynamic of two fine actors and their absorbing characters.
Rattray’s Tom is unquestioningly self-satisfied, on the surface and a bit below, but somewhere there’s a note of insecurity that makes itself known. As Sophie, Diveney is less obviously aggressive, but she’s no pushover. And while Sophie would never admit it, she’s carrying more than a little anger around with her.
Ultimately, Tremor is about identity and survival, each a slippery slope. Tom goes on about how he’s a new person, and Sophie admits she hasn’t found a way to put the trauma behind her. But how many lies does Tom have to tell himself to maintain his equilibrium? His final monologue is a logical dead-end, a glorious string of non sequiturs that go nowhere, so he turns them into a question for Sophie: will she be ready when the time comes?
Photos: Mark Douet
Through Sunday, June 10th at 59E59 Theaters (59 E. 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). www.59e59.org. Sixty minutes with no intermission.