Most people like to travel as a way to take a vacation, relax and escape their worries for a time. However, there are some men and women who go to distant lands in order to challenge themselves in ways that are risky and extremely dangerous.
Golden Shards Productions’ (“a new company based in San Diego and New York”) staging of 8000M showcases an expedition to the Himalayas to climb Lhotse, the fourth highest mountain in the world. The party includes an emotionally closed-off ice climber Erica (Ellie MacPherson), Catrionia (Ashley Underwood), a writer and their energetic leader, Kenneth (Jak Watson).
David Greig’s script deals with the type of material needed for this type of evening, including sequences about the beauty of nature, death-defying moments and backstories of the various characters. In addition, there are some low-key scenes that are just as fascinating to watch, funny sequences about sponsorship and educational ones about Buddhism and Tibetan culture.
Other parts of Greig’s writing are, however, somewhat predictable, such as the sense of awe shared by the climbers, and Erica’s arc from a reserved mother and wife to a more open individual.
It’s still an overall smart and suspenseful script, with plenty of verbal detail describing the expedition. The writing is also intelligent enough to not try and sensationalize the bravery of the journey, and even surfaces the possibility of climbing being a type of addiction.
Golden Shards founder, Alice Cash, directs the show at the Moxie Theatre, and gets physically demanding performances from the ensemble. She stages the action in a tense style that keeps theatregoers equally impressed and anxious by the nerve-wracking trip.
As far as the crewmembers’ work is concerned, lighting technician Saroush Mahdavi and composer/sound designer Mark Van Hare heighten the intensity of the production with their contributions. Hare also uses snippets of songs such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and M People’s “Movin’ on Up” in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that serves to lighten the evening’s tension.
Ropes and a big white sheet are used by the actors help visualize the climb. Although the performers should be commended for their physically expressive acting, they are equally compelling in several dialogue-heavy scenes.
There is no central protagonist and the company members all bring plenty of wit and strong stage presence to their various roles. In addition to MacPherson, Underwood and Watson, the other performers – Nick Chris, Joseph Lyle Dunn and Ryan Feyk – each earn our attention, especially when the climbers are deep into their trip.
Admittedly, Greig’s writing is not likely to change your opinion on taking part in mountaineering. Yet, it does let you respect those that are willing to put their life on the line to accomplish their goals. There’s also something very fresh about seeing this kind of tale presented in a theatrical style, instead of in a book or on the big screen.
The ambitious interpretation of Greig’s riveting adventure works as a solid California introduction to Golden Shards. No need to bring climbing equipment or gear to this production.