Catalyst Arts Atlanta is presenting Patrick Meyers’ powerful two-person drama “K2,” running through Feb. 9 at The Bakery Atlanta, an arts complex not terribly far from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The show was first produced in 1982 at Washington’s Arena Stage, then had a Broadway run in 1983, as well as Los Angeles.
K2 is the second highest mountain in the world, at the China-Pakistan border, 28,251 ft. above sea level; Everest is only a little higher at 29,029 ft. But K2 is the more terrifying. American climber George Bell said K2 is “a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” Because of the extreme difficulty of ascent, about one person dies for every four who reach the summit. K2’s northern location makes it more susceptible to inclement and colder weather.
And this, gentle reader, is where you’re going if you attend this totally immersive, groundbreaking play. Oh no, you’re not safe just because you’re in a “theatre.” Director and Scenic Designer Barrett Doyle is dedicated to “blurring the lines between art, installation and performance.” You don’t enter a lobby; it’s a fully equipped base camp near the approach point on the mountain with blankets (which you’ll use if you’re smart), water, drinks, and equipment under a tent. You hear the wind; and you start to feel the cold.
When the audience enters the playing area, you see the mountain, forbidding and white, looming above you. And—here you stand warned—even though you’re inside a tent-like structure with heaters placed here and there, it’s still cold. Dress warmly! The play runs about 100 minutes with no intermission.
This is a story of two climbers stranded at 27,000 ft. on an icy ledge on K2. Taylor (Joel Coady) and Harold (Dan Ford), who has suffered a broken leg in their precipitous descent off the mountain, are further hindered because they have lost a crucial rope; and the one they have left isn’t long enough to use as a sling to lower Harold to the next ledge. Taylor must climb back up the mountain to try to get the other rope.
In all this we find a metaphor with a powerful theme: choice. And there is a discussion about the meaning and value of life. It’s fascinating because Taylor is a womanizing district attorney, and Harold is a physicist who has found a mystic satisfaction in his selfless love for his wife and young son. Here are two vastly different human beings; but we see a bond between them grow deeper and deeper. While Taylor is climbing, Harold is holding forth on Einstein’s theories, God, and hidden variables. Taylor has philosophies of his own.
But often it’s difficult to concentrate on their words, and I’ll tell you why: Actor Joel Coady is literally risking his life as he climbs, more than once, to the top of Barrett Doyle’s ingenious set. Mr. Coady is using crampons and ice screws and his own strength and dexterity, but if he fell, he would be seriously injured or killed. When is the last time an actor risked his life for you? I’ve never seen it before—not like this.
The play becomes thrilling and moving and heartbreaking and I can’t tell you any more about what happens or what they say as the play nears its end. The sounds, the freezing mountain mists, the totality of empathy and emotion this play engendered in me have only increased since I saw it. Both Mr. Coady and Mr. Ford give unforgettable performances, and they have my admiration and gratitude. And likewise to Mr. Doyle.
I would suggest you take your mind off the Super Bowl awhile, dress warmly, and see a unique, meticulously crafted and executed work of art—which in many ways alters the face of an art form.
For more information, visit catalystartsatl.com.