Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robi Polgar, Fri., Sept. 5, 2003
'K2': Swearing Manfully at the Mountain
Arts on Real, through Sept. 13
Running Time: 2 hrs., 20 min.
Disaster: Two climbers slip and fall from the side of K2 and are left dangling over a precipice. One climber claws his way back to the icy face of the sheer wall of the world's most dangerous mountain; his friend is delicately suspended, unconscious and gently spinning, luckily caught on his rope, but now hanging above a death drop into the clouds. Through fog and dim blue light, the mountain appears to descend upon the men, a merciless giant moving in for the kill. This opening image is theatrical in the extreme, powerful and breathtaking with a sort of cold beauty. The conscious climber manages to pull his fallen buddy to the slimmest of shelves on the ice face. The sun sets, and when the pair wake up they are faced with challenges and questions, not least of which is whether or not one of them should be left to die on the mountain so the other may live.
Sadly, this Arts Entertainment Group production has no thrills left after its deft, visually impactful opening. (The set and lighting designs aren't credited, but kudos to the creative team.) While director Blake Yelavich has inspired his two actors to immerse themselves in their roles, Patrick Meyers' early 1980s script is tedious and long and argumentative and often so bizarrely out of sync with the perils the characters face as to be silly. Taylor, the obnoxious lawyer -- yes, believe it or not, there are one or two -- is written so wackily that he may as well be bipolar: warmly supportive of his buddy one minute, maniacally hurling abuse at the man the next. Harold, whose leg is smashed, is the more serene in the face of imminent death, except, of course, for the blind-cyclops-and-vagina stories that Meyers has manfully written for his "family man" character. Oh, yes, boys will be boys, even when faced with certain death, but Butch and Sundance these two are not. It's hard to imagine these desperate climbers debating the social realities of the district attorney's office, the hypocrisy of higher educational institutions where biological warfare is researched, or even their love lives when they're about to meet their maker, but between bouts with the mountain (shake your fist and swear manfully: Oh, you cursed mountain!) we have to listen to these rather uninteresting specimens air their darkest secrets. But what is confession without expiation? It's just dirty laundry, flapping in the cold Himalayan air.
Jude Hickey plays Harold, and, just as in Tricks (also directed by Yelavich) earlier this summer, he proves himself an actor with a certain magnetism and one who appears to inhabit his characters' lives with ease. His dark stare is passionate and focused, yet Hickey exudes warmth and gentleness in his interactions with his more primal climbing mate. When he tells a story -- his personal ones, not the tedious dirty ones -- he's as engaging an actor as you'll see on an Austin stage. Adam Medina throws himself into his role but hasn't the technique to make Taylor more than one-note: Blusterer or sniveller, it all comes out in the same rhythm. Plus, his diction needs a bit of work; it's hard to understand his avalanche of verbiage. Medina gets the physical action, and he looks like he knows what he is doing scampering back and forth across the ice face in an ongoing attempt to retrieve a much-needed rope. He should take as much care with his words.
By the time the play finally comes around to the big existential question, playwright Meyers has nothing left in his knapsack. The two men really don't seem all that close, and the ultimate decision has been a long time coming, so by play's end it's neither tragic, nor thrilling. That leaves the star of this piece -- as in real life -- that mysterious, dangerous, shape-shifting mountain.