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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Climbing Everest

By Laura Hitchcock
The wind sweeps everything away but the truth. --Mallory

Aaron Hendry, Katie A. Keane
(Photo: Michael Lamont)
This above quote is the theme of Margit Ahlin's literal cliff-hanger about the quest of a girl who is one of a family of mountaineers to retrieve her brother's corpse from the Death Zone of Mt. Everest. The mountaineer who sat next to me gave Ahlin full marks for the accuracy of her research but that wind still has a little sweeping to do.

The dysfunctional family of Mallory Falconer (Katie A. Keane) includes her mother Julia (Carol Ketay) and sister Hillary (Aubrey Joy Saverino), both limp with devastation resulting from the loss of their father George (Tom Dugan) and brother Shipton (Matthew Siegan) in two separate climbing accidents. Both girls, who bicker constantly, are named for legendary mountaineers, George Mallory and Sir Edward Hillary. Mallory claims she dropped out of college for financial reasons and tends bar. She's also a climber and decides, with the financial assistance of climbing partner/best friend Hunter (Aaron Hendry), to bring back her brother's corpse. Shades of Antigone hover over the expedition which may explain the philosophical tone some of the dialogue seems required to bear.

Mallory's feverish obsession ignores the safety of herself and others but with the help of a young Chinese man, Jinwu (Feodor Chin), the expedition is launched. The magnificent and testing climb strips away much of Mallory's depression and helps her see the present as a present, a line which has a familiar ring. "Anthropologists consider burial the first act of civilized man," she says.

That's the first and best of many morsels of scholarly and philosophic lore that impede the play's progress almost as much as the snow. In moments of delirium, she fancies her father is speaking to her but instead of truths about the family relationships, they discuss definitions of death "Get on with your life, already!" says Hunter and the anachronism grates strangely in his English accent.

Mallory experiences her deepest moment of fear when she anthromorphises the mountain from "it to she." There's even time for a triangle up there and when Jinwu expresses his desire for Mallory, she and Hunter flee up the mountain to avoid Jinwu's threat to have the Chinese authorities curtail their climb. Ahlin has developed fascinating material here but it's weakened by unnecessary scenes and tangential philosophizing. It would be a stronger play without the last scene.

The cast is strongly anchored by Keane, a fiery actress who brings a petulant passion to Mallory, and Hendry, the kind of devil-may-care adventurer you hope to meet in exotic climes. Matthew Siegan's exuberant performance as Shipton makes you intuit what Mallory was like in her pre-depression period. Feodor Chin brings a nervy intensity to Jinwu and the elegant Michael Yama is fascinating in such multiple roles as Comrade Chang and Mr. D.

Dual role-casting allows Carol Ketay and Tom Dugan to display their versatility, Ketay as a dysfunctional Julia Falconer and the type of neighbor who can be cheerful at cemeteries; Dugan as the distant rugged George Falconer and the dapper corporate baron, Sir Andrew. Aubrey Joy Saverino finds the big "s" in the sulky Hillary. Michael Tolfo is hilarious as the "good cook" with his limited English and Peter Kwong a solid presence as the sherpa Dorjee. Al D'Andrea skillfully guides the climbers over Yevgenia Nayberg's glacial Jungle Jim of a set and brings out the sharp edges of their characters.

Playwright: Margit Ahlin
Director: Al D'Andrea
Cast: Katie A. Keane (Mallory Falconer), Tom Dugan (George Falconer, Sir Andrew), Carol Ketay (Julia Falconer, Neighbor), Aubrey Joy Saverino (Hillary Falconer, Climber 3), Matthew Siegan (Shipton Falconer), Peter Kwong (Climber 1, Fortune Teller, Dorjee, Sherpa), Michael Tolfo (Climber 2, Moondog, Lopsang, Sherpa), Michael Yama 9Mr. D., Comrade Chang, Lama, Sherpa), Aaron Hendry (Hunter), Feodor Chin (Jinwu).
Set Design: Yevgenia Nayberg
Lighting Design: Steven Young
Costume Design: A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
Sound Design: Drew Dalzell
Running Time: Three hours with one intermission
Running Dates: April 9-May 8, 2005
Where: The Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third Street, Burbank, Ph: (818) 558-7110.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 9.

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