Melinda Beck in Mountain Language.
Photo-Walden Theatre Alumni Company
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Ben Park
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2014 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I don’t think of Harold Pinter as being risky, cutting edge theatre anymore. The British playwright was considered innovative in his early work, has been an influence for the generations of writers that have followed him, and now occupies the status of a legend. But Mountain Language, first produced in 1988, is a play that, among Pinter’s work, perhaps invites edgier staging.
It gets it in this production from the Walden Theatre Alumni Company. Beginning in darkness punctuated by loud and ominous electric guitar (played live by Noah Park), a disturbing tone of dread and portent is immediately established that never flags during the roughly 45-minute running time. The only lights are two flashlights passed among various members of the cast and one naked bulb that is suspended adjacent to the only set piece. Actors’ faces are only intermittently illuminated and silhouetted figures define the look of the production.
Pinter’s story is a sketchy tale lacking in details in which the Men of the Mountain have been imprisoned by an oppressive, authoritarian system of government that uses physical and psychological brutality to control their charges. Particular attention is paid to forcing the prisoners and their wives to abandon their language, and the use of a native tongue to symbolize one culture subsuming another is tidy and effective. Loss of language equals loss of identity for an entire society.
Director Ben Park’s staging emphasizes Pinter’s cryptic lack of specificity, and the action becomes abstract and therefore more universal, but it also increases the visceral fear and trauma for the audience. The fact that we cannot clearly see the faces of the victims only makes the story more frightening. Think of this as a horror movie written by Harold Pinter and you get the idea.
It is an approach that makes you grateful this is not a full-length play. It is the kind of theatre that might lose audience at intermission, which makes the Slant Culture Theatre Festival a perfect home for this work. It effectively represents the intended aesthetic of the Slant mission as a stage that welcomes offbeat and challenging material.
The ensemble is Tony Pike, Melinda Beck, Natalie Fields, Elliot Cornett, Eliot Zellers Bryce Bashford and Ben Park.
(Editors note: this review is based on a preview performance)
Walden Theatre Alumni Company
Part of the Slant Culture Theatre Festival
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Saturday, November 15 – 3 pm
Sunday, November 16 – 9 pm
Thursday, November 20 – 9 pm
Friday, November 21 -11 pm
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]