They are also doing the right thing by choosing Ed to direct it. Though this play is only eighty minutes in length, it requires a hell of a lot of painstakingly detailed planning, due to the unique requirements of telling this narrative. And that’s all besides just what’s involved in constructing the mountain, and logistically planning enough rehearsals so that your actors can learn how to convincingly climb it. So sitting at a table earlier in the day, at a rehearsal space in the company’s offices on Granby Street’s Restaurant Row, Morgan, along with his two strapping thirty-something actors, John Keabler and Drew Parker, detail for me the varied tedium of their collective creative process, as well as their heightened expectations around making it all work… to create an exciting night of theater.
“The set in this play is one of the leading characters,” explains Ed. It’s one of the first things that he says in our conversation. “This play is about the externals, much more than it’s about the internals.”
“It’s a play that requires believable behavior in a believable context and a believable relationship,” he continues. “We want as believable an environment as we can make it.” And then Morgan makes a point that is profound in what it suggests, yet quite simple in its truth. “The climbing is real here.”
K2 tells the story of two climbers, both men, who are stranded on an icy ledge about 27,000 feet up in the sky, with one rope remaining between them, along with one of the two friends having suffered a broken leg. In other words, they are fucked. This external conflict is also smartly heightened by the fact that the real K2, the second highest mountain in the world, is also one of the deadliest for climbers. So the audience already knows that Taylor and Harold are obviously thrill-seekers, to even be anywhere in close proximity to that imposing, merciless piece of nature.
“It’s about brotherhood and I’ve found a riff in my head on the Cain and Abel story,” Morgan states. “It’s very primal…two guys suspended here at the edge of the world, choosing life, choosing death…”
K2 began at DC’s Arena Stage, before hitting Broadway in March of 1983, running for 85 performances. In spite of its relatively short run, it did earn Tony Award nominations, including its win for Scenic Design by Ming Cho Lee. It has also earned raves for its various mountings since, at regional theatres. Besides the importance of the constructed mountain, the believability of the physical and emotional performances of its two sole actors is essential to any production of it.
For this local premiere of this work, Ed chose wisely while casting in New York City, finding two actors who could really be brothers, though the characters of Taylor and Harold are not technically related. Drew Parker, a Michigan native who is new to VSC, plays Taylor. He’s very comfortable telling me about how challenging it has been to master all of the intricacies of his performance.
“We all knew it was going to be a challenge, coming into it, but it’s been, at times, harder than I could have imagined it being,” Parker admits. Part of the natural challenge for the actor is the fact that he’d never climbed before. “And then being able to layer the text with the actions and the actions at times being very physically demanding…” He credits their climbing coach, Derek Samples, with leading both actors to believability as mountain climbers.
John Keabler, another VSC newbie, plays Harold. He also quickly acknowledges the physical and psychological challenges for the actors in this play. “My brain has just been misfiring left and right in this process,” he says with both a smirk and quite a bit of humility. “It’s been a huge challenge.”
“Once he’s back down on the ground and we’re having a conversation, it’s great,” he says, referring to Parker as Taylor. Keabler will earlier tell this funny story about their process working with Ed…acknowledging the profanity and heightened male energy that informs their interactions. One of the guys who were building the set walks in one day. “He said he walked into rehearsal, and at one point, there was so much testosterone in the room…that he got pregnant.”
I was of course dead when John said that. However, I think that Edward succinctly summarizes the experience of the play even better, both from their artistic perspective, as well as the audience’s. “It’s a yang play.”
The show runs Sep 23-Oct 12, 2014. For more info or for tickets, this is the VSC website.