Immersive theater can be uncomfortable. Being stranded on one of the world’s most dangerous mountains at 27,000 feet at subzero temperatures is even more uncomfortable. In its new production, K2, Catalyst Arts Atlanta has curated an authentic experience in which audience members can become acutely familiar with how it feels to be caught on a literal and metaphorical precipice, with nothing more than your dwindling supplies and blind faith on your side.
Running through February 9 at one of East Point’s most popular venues, The Bakery, the audience is huddled under a tent where hot Sherpa tea is offered along with the warning that it will be cold inside the space. It’s best to grab one of the coats, blankets or sleeping bags provided, because the effective efforts of the production to immerse the audience into the characters’ experience outweigh the discomfort. The motivation to be a part of the experience outweighs the possibility of negative consequences — an appropriate parallel to the story itself.
Nuclear physicist Harold (Dan Ford) and his attorney general friend Taylor (Joel Coady) find themselves deep into their quest to be a part of the momentous experience of climbing to the summit of China’s K2, the second highest mountain in the world. Injured, immobilized and missing a rope that is vital for their trip to the bottom, the two are on their descent at the beginning of the show. Harold and Taylor seem to be two very different people with the same extreme hobby — one a family man and the other a ladies’ man with a cavalier attitude about love. As they work through the physical impossibilities of their situation, they also work through the convoluted reasons as to why they are even there.
Beyond the draped entryway into the space, a blue haze sets the scene of the precarious situation and adds an eerie effect of danger as the set itself is swallowed by a total white-out. The lighting offers a tremendous advantage to the overall simplicity of the set. With only two actors, a slanted playing space of roughly 20 feet and an abundance of the color white, Maranda DeBusk’s lighting design success is in its simplicity and contrast. Icy blue wash with a sharp, bright, orange light emitting from beneath the ice creates surreal moments of ascension. Soft, yellow light through the fog heightens the awareness of being surrounded by nothingness.
Standing out as a truly remarkable piece of construction, the set, designed by Barrett Doyle, physically demands connection to the actors by covering them in snow and limiting their room to move. Coady and Ford demonstrate remarkable stamina, not only being the only two actors in the show but also because of the athleticism required in the script. Taylor scales up the “mountain” and hangs suspended above the audience, but Harold is still able to draw the audience in with his monologues reflecting on fear of loss.
Despite their fundamental differences, as they both begin to come to terms with the danger they’ve found themselves in, they realize that time on Earth comes down to the same thing for everyone: life is about holding on. The script on its own does not offer the same harrowing story that the two actors deliver, nor would the threat of impending nightfall feel as real without such successful lighting. The design of the set and the overall experience makes K2 a unique piece of theater that allows closer proximity to a death-defying, human experience many would never willingly encounter.