Review: "8000M" - Climbing a Mountain in a Midtown Black Box Theater

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  • Niki Hatzidis, Contributing Critic

A show that catapults you into the extremities of climbing one of the highest summits on earth, 8000M is a testament to how good storytelling doesn’t require expensive bells and whistles.

Written by David Greig, the play is the story of a team of climbers in the Himalayas, setting out to climb to the summit of Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world.  We meet a team of experts and an enthusiasts excited to take on this challenge, amongst them a famous female ice climber.  Although it is ultimately a story of the teamwork it takes to achieve such an incredible triumph, at the center of the play, is the struggle of two passionate women determined to succeed at their own personal goals in a male dominated arena. 

After a successful run in San Diego, Golden Shards Productions and it’s artistic director, Alice Cash, bring 8000M to the NuBox Theater in Midtown, New York City.  The company has partnered with Manhattan Plaza Health Club where the actors trained and practiced in climbing, rope work and belay techniques.  The dedication to specificity shows in the depiction of the precise technique and physical specificities of a climber.  The team has had many climbing events and guest speakers throughout the run, including working with Brian Dickinson who had done a solo climb of Mount Everest.

All the preparations and training have paid off as the ensemble exemplifies an honest and heartfelt portrayal of the bravery, gusto and confidence it takes to achieve a great feat.  Armed with only climbing ropes and flashlights, the ensemble creates tents, helicopters, and even bridges on cliff sides.  Their commitment to truthful storytelling brings the audience to the precipice of risk and peril, a challenge director Alice Cash says she and the team worked hard to accomplish.  A difficult endeavor in directing this play was, “figuring out how to put the Himalayas on the stage and to create danger.  It became about how to use the rope in a dangerous way or how to use the rope to create the metaphorical spaces.”  Together the actors achieve just that, propelling us non-climbers into a treacherous and thrilling world of extreme sport and adventure.

When asked what notion she would like the audience to leave the theater with, Cash responds, “I want you to know a little bit more about climbing.  And I want you to take away something about your own passion.  What would drive you to do something like this? For me that’s directing.”  It’s true that the play guides the audience through the complexities and strategies one must undergo to climb, but you don’t have to be a climber, or even into extreme, high- adrenaline inducing activities to find something in this place that resonates with you. Like Cash hopes, if you just have a goal that fire up an inner drive in your belly, 8000M will make you feel that you can achieve it and so much more.

Cash was drawn to the play when she read it after being stuck in a blizzard on the Tibetan side of Mount Everest on a backpacking trip after college.  She says the experience has shaped the stories she wants to tell.  Her thoughts on the play, “its a powerful female story and those are the types of stories I want to tell as a female director. Just like it’s unusual to be a female climber, it’s unusual to be a female director, so why not tell those stories?”

The two female characters in the play, The Ice Climber, played by Ellie McPherson, and The Writer, played by Ashley Underwood, are both on a mission to prove themselves in a man’s world.  The Writer is a successful poet who wants to write about the climbing team’s progress up the mountain.  She trains hard herself to become comparable in skill to the more experienced climbers, but is still questioned about her intentions because she is dating one of the climbers on the expedition. 

The Ice Climber has made a name for herself in the climbing world, has reached many summits, but is questioned constantly about why she chooses to put herself inn danger when she is a wife and a mother. The play proposes the seemingly outrageous idea that although some women are wives and mothers, that is not the sum of all their parts. Sometimes women can have the audacity to reach the top of a mountain.  Alice says, “it’s about powerful women.  I think that needs to be told.  Especially in a time where we’re fighting for Me Too and fighting for our voices to be told.  This girl does something unusual and I think that should be celebrated.”

8000M is being performed at the Nubox Theatre, in the John DeStelle Studio until May 19th. Tickets and information about the events and talkbacks Golden Shards Productions is facilitating can be found on their website, goldenshards.com. It is not a show to be missed, as it not only encompasses truthful and compelling storytelling, but it shows just what kind of magic theater creatives can produce; they can transport you to the highest of peaks.