Imagine being stranded with a broken leg on the narrow ledge of a 600-foot ice wall, in minus 50-degree weather, just 1,000 feet from the summit of the second highest mountain in the world.
That’s the terrifying premise of Patrick Meyers’ play, “K2,” that opened recently at the Underground Theatre in Hollywood. And though it doesn’t purport to be a true story, it encapsulates the experiences of some of the climbers of K2, the “savage mountain” in the Karakoram range that borders Pakistan and China. Of some 1,400 climbers who have attempted this 28,000-foot mountain, only 300 have made it to the top. And 77 have died on the journey.
Meyers’ protagonists are a cynical lawyer named Taylor (Jake Suffian) and his idealistic physicist climbing partner Harold (Sean Galuszka). Harold is the one with the broken leg.
While Taylor obsessively inventories what equipment they haven’t lost along the way, Harold keeps falling over into a sleep that threatens to become fatal. As Taylor tries to keep his friend upright and awake, he discovers that he has lost one of their climbing ropes, a vital necessity if they are going to try to get down off the mountain. And so there is nothing for it but to climb back up to the spot from which they had fallen, to retrieve the second rope.
As Taylor inches his way up the elaborate scaffolding that set designer Laura Fine Hawkes has used to simulate the mountain, he is accompanied by Harold’s rambling ruminations about his wife and son, about the mysteries of life, and about his search for God.
Having once given up on God, Harold had his faith restored when, as a physicist, he was involved in the discovery of the quark — an elementary particle thought to be the fundamental constituent of matter. “We found God’s house,” he acknowledges ruefully, “and we called it ‘quark.’”
Harold, in intense pain, becomes a bit hallucinatory occasionally, but he is still not as intense as Taylor, who is driven to the brink of madness with the agonizing responsibility of trying to save both their lives. His anguished shouting rattles the mountainside and exhausts both himself and the audience. It is an acting tour de force and a credit to director Damen Scranton, who has called this play “a director’s nightmare.” It is also a credit to Tony Yeary, the climbing consultant who taught the actors high altitude climbing techniques and the use of the mountaineering equipment.
“K2” is not an easy play, either for the actors or the audience, but it is a beautifully written, highly intelligent, and moving piece of work. Both actors do a strong, convincing job, and their suffering, as well as the overwhelming roar of the ferocious winds on the mountain leaves the viewer surprised, as he exits the theater, that he doesn’t, in fact, have frostbite.
“K2” will continue at the Underground Theatre, 1314 North Wilton Place, in Hollywood, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through Nov. 14. Call (800) 838-3006 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.