There's an area called the Dead Zone near the 29,000-foot summit of Mount Everest where, if someone dies, the body stays forever. After reaching the top, Mallory Falconer's brother succumbs to hypothermia on his way down, but she's not content leaving him lying in his panoramic deep freeze, insisting she must climb Everest herself to bring him home.
Playwright Margit Ahlin has chosen an epic story to tell, and this is a monumental effort—no pun intended—but it's not a complete success. The lengthy playing time is hard to endure, especially when the subject of battling personal demons and overcoming mortality is hammered into our heads with such annoying repetition. Ahlin's overdramatic dialogue is the major problem, with lines such as, "Everest. She tempts men to their deaths with her siren's song," giving the air of a 1930s film melodrama sure to lead our heroine right into the dastardly grasp of Peter Lorre.
The production is a huge undertaking, even for the Colony. Steven Young's excellent lighting and Drew Dalzell's sound design help camouflage Yevgenia Nayberg's surprisingly uninspired set, a series of ascending levels resembling a canvas-covered schoolyard jungle gym. The place never seems cold and brutal, never troubled by more than scattered snow flurries, when snowdrifts and fog effects would suggest the brutal atmosphere. Al D'Andrea's staging is noteworthy in scenes in which the bravely athletic actors are struggling to make it appear that they're climbing a formidable mountain, but in general his direction lacks focus, letting the banging around of large black cubes replace any ingenuity in creating a trip to the top of the world. He also doesn't notice that the potentially heartfelt performance of Katie A. Keane as Mallory is overshadowed by overusing her impressively resonant voice and pointedly overemphasizing every consonant. The supporting cast is exceptional, and there's a fascinating, moving story somewhere hidden in the weather report here, but when the laughably stoic leading character goes on about things such as "drifting through the rest of my life in a miserable fog," it's difficult not to wish she'd get back down to earth in more ways than one.
"Climbing Everest," presented by and at the Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. Also Sat. Apr. 16 & 23, 2 p.m. Thu. Apr. 28 & May 5, 8 p.m. Dark Sun. Apr. 10, 7 p.m. Apr. 9-May 8. $26-36. (818) 558-7000.