It’s easy to become desensitized—to violence, to conflict, to war. A 24-hour news cycle is now the norm; filled with programming to fit our personal political bents, but without the gore, and often without the emotion. Walden Theatre Alumni Company’s “Mountain Language” is challenging in its closeness, both physical and topical, and poignant in director Ben Park’s decidedly unsterilized depiction of oppression.
Published by Harold Pinter in 1988, “Mountain Language” follows The Young Woman (Melinda Beck, the wife of The Young Man) and The Mother (Natalie Fields, mother of The Young Man) as they go to visit The Young Man (Bryce Bashford) in prison.
The women are greeted by The Sergeant (Tony Pike), two guards (Elliot Cornett and Eliot Zeller) and The Officer (Ben Park) who taunt and belittle the women, and forbid them the use of their “mountain language,” saying that only the “language of the Capitol” is permitted.
This is only the first of four short, arresting scenes which invoke a shocking awareness of the terror, brutality and dehumanization which can occur when the rights of the individual have been usurped by an all-powerful and oppressive state.
Compared to other productions of the play, which rely on audio of wartime helicopters and explosions, Park’s interpretation of Pinter’s text is chilling in its minimalism—leaving the language, the movement, the motif of light and a few outbursts of graphic violence to tell the story. This choice not only leaves the play devoid of a specific time and place, making it accessible to every audience member, but it also forces everyone in the theatre to confront what is happening around them, because they feel they are within the action of “Mountain Language.”
The actors all committed fully to their characters, creating a shocking world of depth for such a short performance—and the addition of original music by Noah Park added a cinematic quality to the production that seamlessly carried the passing of time and augmented the action.
While Friday night’s performance was the final chance to see “Mountain Language” at the Slant Culture Theatre Festival, I look forward to a chance to see more of Park’s innovative directorial choices and the talents of all the members of the Walden Theatre Alumni Company.