Monday, October 28, 2002

Stranded at 27,000 feet on the world's toughest mountain, K2, Taylor (Eric Nemoto, front) helps Harold (Wil Kahele), who broke his leg in a fall.

Climbing to the top of the world

By John Berger

Legend has it that when English mountaineer George Leigh Mallory was asked why he was preparing to risk his life for a third time by attempting to be the first man to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, Mallory replied, "Because it's there." Director Dennis Proulx has the same feeling about surmounting the challenges involved in bringing "K2," Patrick Meyers' thought-provoking play about high altitude mountain climbing, to the local stage.

"I toted this show around to every theater that would talk to me ever since I've been here," Proulx, a longtime Hawaii resident, said recently.

Proulx arrived in Hawaii in the late '80s, and local theater fans have seen his work in a number of good roles before a serious back injury forced him to put his stage career on hold. That enforced exile from the stage is ending, and after years of proposing "K2" to various local theater groups only to have it rejected for one reason or another, The Actors Group (TAG) is giving Proulx's project a chance. "K2" marks his debut as a director, and he says that it was TAG's willingness to let him present "K2" that persuaded him to direct "for cheap."

"It's a stunning piece of writing," he said of Meyers' script. "I first saw a production of it in Juno, Alaska, in '82, and they did it using a blank back wall with painters' scaffolding representing the mountain."

Proulx appeared in a dinner theater group production of "K2" in Anchorage two years later where the audience watched from "inside" the mountain as two climbers are confronted with life-and-death decisions on an icy ledge somewhere near the summit of the second highest mountain in the world.

"K2 is the most difficult climb in the world," Proulx explained. "Over 2,000 people have been to the top of Everest, but less than 200 have been to the top of K2."

In the play, two would-be conquerors of the mountain are stranded on a ice ledge at the 27,000 foot level when one of their climbing ropes breaks. One of the men has a broken leg. If his climbing partner can retrieve enough of the broken rope, they may be able to continue the climb down. If not, there won't be enough rope to lower the injured man to safety.

While sub-freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen are the nemesis of high-altitude climbers, cast members Wil Kahele and Eric Nemoto have been facing the challenge of portraying men who are struggling for survival on a icy ledge while, in fact, wearing full climbing gear under the glare of theatrical lighting.

Getting the show launched has been a challenge in other ways. TAG has never done a show in the Little Theatre before; designed and built on a shoestring budget, Proulx's K2 consists primarily of recycled wood and carpet remnants. Rehearsals have been disrupted by car problems, a neighborhood shooting, a stabbing and equipment failure, but Proulx and his intrepid two-man cast have pressed on with the task of recreating an intense life-and-death drama on an 80-foot slab within the confines of one of the smallest theaters on Oahu.

Proulx says that the powerful script, and the challenges involved in staging the show in a small space, have gotten "K2" support from theatrical tech specialists and climbing experts -- including a complete climbing rig from Powder Hawaii.

"It's going to be right-in-your-face drama. The basic theme of the story is holding on, that blind faith is what gets you through from moment to moment. You've just got to believe that the best thing is going to happen."

(Just like pitching a show for years and years and finally finding a group willing to produce it!)

Tough climb

"K2," presented by The Actors Group:

Where: Windward Community College's Little Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, with additional performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 24
Tickets: $10
Call: 591-7999

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