Moving Theater

The Earthquake Predictor Rides the Bus, by Hank
Willenbrink, directed and performed by Mitchell Thomas. Friday,
September 22. Next bus departing Cabrillo and State Dolphin
Fountain at 7, 8, and 9 p.m., Friday, September 29.

Reviewed by Sara Barbour

Earthquake-Predictor-1.jpgAbout 15 minutes into the bus ride, our
guide leaned forward conspiratorially. “She had something under her
eye,” he began, “and I thought it was a bit of mascara. But no …”
and here we all shifted to the edge of our seats, poking our heads
out into the aisle to get a better view. He paused dramatically,
scanning the semi-dark bus and said, “It was a black freckle.”

And so it went on: Hank Willenbrink’s surreal The Earthquake
Predictor Rides the Bus, a half-hour monologue performed aboard an
actual bus on a circuitous route around Santa Barbara. As the
guide, Mitchell Thomas abruptly shifted from perceptive
impersonations of obnoxiously perky tour guides to self-absorbed,
trance-like lapses in which he delivered startlingly odd anecdotes
that ranged from the pursuit of a woman he subsequently married and
murdered to his skill as an “earthquake predictor.” Interspersed
were several mildly interesting Santa Barbara facts — relating,
unsurprisingly, to the Chumash and Saint Barbara — but with the
exception of the man snoring faintly behind me and the little girl
across the aisle, all the passengers managed a number of genuine
laughs in between the initially awkward silences.

There was something oddly captivating about our guide. His
piercing gaze would shift quite suddenly out the window, where he
would stare riveted by something in the outer world that was hidden
from us. It felt like we were separate from the milling Friday
night traffic, and although I’ve passed these places a thousand
times before, it seemed as though I was seeing Santa Barbara for
the first time. In the silences that fell after deadpan assertions
such as “I’ve always found plants irresistibly attractive,” I found
my mind wandering introspectively, and when the narrator paused to
ponder the forgotten people who had once walked these streets,
declaring that “history has a terrible memory,” I felt a chord had
been struck. Santa Barbara fosters so many creative pursuits, the
majority of which are naturally forgotten, but what would become of
the one I was presently part of?

When I stepped off the bus I felt as though I’d completed a real
journey. Certainly there were moments when I feared catching my
fellow passenger’s eye and bursting into laughter, but there were
also moments when I felt an immense respect for our guide, who took
it upon himself to create a new world from the generally
underappreciated everyday one. In the end, the fact that the
earthquake predictor couldn’t predict the sudden crumbling of his
own life led him to virtual madness. But it also led us on an
experience I won’t soon forget.


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