"You wouldnít believe what some folks will do to others."
A test of friendship lies at the core of this 1983 play. The problem with that is we donít really know much about the friendship thatís being tested. Harold and Taylor both climb mountains as a hobby. Taylor is a lawyer. Harold may be a scientist, or theoretical physicist, or hypothetical drugged-out hippy. Itís never been clear to me and this is the third production Iíve seen of this play.
I saw it on Broadway in April, 1983 with Jeffrey DeMunn (Tony nominated) as Taylor in a production that only ran for 85 performances. I saw him do it at Syracuse Stage the year before. The set was phenomenal for these two productions: Ming Cho Lee's sheer cliff of plexiglass with snow pots and a ledge 26 feet above the stage with a climb of 55 feet in all for Taylor to mount in his effort to rescue lost ropes he needs for a proper descent. When DeMunn lost his footing and fell, held only by the rope and the rope held by his co-star, supposedly ailing, and failing, suspended in mid-air it was staggering for both heart and mind.
At the Unicorn Theatre, the Berkshire Theatre Festivalís second stage, things are not quite so Ming and Terry Schreiber (designer and director). There is still a tinge of fear watching the two actors maneuver on a short-ended shelf suspended over the stage in a mountain wall set by Kenneth Grady Barker that does a lot with a little.
So do both the actors in this new presentation. Greg Keller plays Harold and Tim McGeever is wearing the role of Taylor. The role fits him nicely. Harold has a badly injured leg and our concern for him is real; it seems from the outset he may never make it off the mountain other than by free-fall sacrifice of his life. The less showy of the two roles it may have been written down from the intensity that I recall from the 80s where loose language filled the stage causing many in the Syracuse audience to leave in anger before the first half hour mark had been reached. That language is not much in evidence here leaving me to wonder if the play has been cleaned up or if the actors, working under Terry Schreiber, just had free-rein to augment their roles as they deemed it necessary.
These are, after all, two very intelligent men. Invectives arenít necessarily their only out. The actors in Stockbridge take that approach and the idea of friendship and its responsibilities takes center stage in this offering. How far will Taylor go to rescue his friend before he gives in to necessity? How literal will Harold be in relaying information on his own condition to keep his friend trying to save him? When will the two realize that their only hope is in the separation of friendship and responsibility?
Keller is excellent as Harold. He matches intelligence and drug culture insights brilliantly. This is a 60s man in the 80s, older, wiser, more faithful to a vow. His body loses mass as the play progresses and is less solid and secure, more frighteningly dangerous to himself and Taylor.
McGeever, as said, wears his role proudly. He scales mountains, literally, as he plays this part and while his fall may not have the spectacular aspects of previous Taylors he is still very much in control of our fear mechanism as he takes risk after risk.
Grantom has directed a production of this nerve-rattling play in a slightly modest and meek fashion it seems to me. There are no mistakes - how could there be when the entire play is scaled to the Unicorn and remains steadfastly loyal to its surroundings - but the risks seem somehow more theatrical and less real. He has certainly developed well-defined characters who do not require endless streams of curse-words to make their points.
The set, is a curious pastiche of things, but works for its actors and so must be accounted a fine rendering of a mountain wall for a theatrical context. The lighting by Shawn E. Boyle works well, even when it turns itself into an avalanche. Laurie Churba Kohn seems to have shopped a perfect pair of costumes (this production is underwritten by the Arcadian Shop which may have something to do with this).
All in all, K2 is a better experience in many ways than I thought it could be on a small scale. Worthwhile for its performances, certainly, it is guaranteed to chill down a hot summer night in the Berkshires.
K2 plays at the Unicorn Theatre at the Berkshire Theatre Festival on Route 7 in Stockbridge, MA through July 3. For schedules, information or tickets contact the box office at 413-298-5576.