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K2. Pakistan's K2 mountain is the second highest in the world, and it kills climbers: One dies for every four who make the summit. Very few of us can understand what drives those who attempt these summits, deliberately exposing themselves to terror and pain, nor can we know what it feels like to face the huge and indifferent forces of nature — but doubtless there's a wild exhilaration at the heart of the experience. Patrick Meyers's K2, a grueling ninety-minute drama, shows two men, Harold and Taylor, trapped on a high, icy ledge. They're suffering from the bitter cold. Harold has an ugly injury to his leg. They've lost essential equipment, have very little food, and are running out of daylight. Taylor is all guts and instinct, a district attorney with a jaundiced, racist view of the world. Harold is devoted to his wife and child. A onetime hippie, he moved from stoned speculation about the secrets of the universe to a serious career as a nuclear physicist. But his resumé isn't entirely virtuous: Harold helped develop the neutron bomb at Lawrence Livermore — a bomb designed to wipe out all living things in an area, while leaving objects and buildings intact. Since it's still remotely possible that Taylor could succeed in getting off the mountain, Harold urges him to attempt it — supposedly to get help, though both of them know how unlikely that is. But Taylor is determined not to live out the rest of his life knowing he'd left a friend to die. The two bicker, rage at each other and the mountain, even laugh now and then at the absurdity of their predicament. Given the situation, you might expect the play to be static, but it's dramatically well structured, with far more action than seems possible. K2 asks a lot of both actors and audience: We have to be willing to give ourselves over to a bleak and terrifying place; the actors have to give their emotional all. Fortunately, Jude Moran and William Hahn are up to it. Presented by the Aurora Fox through April 3, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, 303-739-1970, www.aurorafox.org. Reviewed March 24.

Augie Truhn and Jess Roblee in Homebody/Kabul.
Michael Ensminger
Augie Truhn and Jess Roblee in Homebody/Kabul.

Traces. The talented acrobats of Traces — six men and a woman — aren't dressed, Cirque-style, in masks or feathers; they're not working with artsy, enigmatic, mythical stories or cavorting in fairytale landscapes. They're just a group of folks in dull gray, brown and black street clothes. They share a little information about themselves, though not a lot, and if there's a story here, it's fairly undefined. For the most part, these seem to be kids hanging around on a street corner, dancing, jostling each other, fighting a bit; there's a screen behind them that sometimes flickers with black-and-white images and sometimes shows Chinese characters or drawings of skyscrapers, and the music ranges from pulse-pounding to old songs ("It's Only a Paper Moon") to soft, Erik Satie-like piano phrases, often produced by the multi-talented cast members themselves. But the real story lies in the acrobatics: someone skimming weightlessly up a pole, then stretching his body out in a true horizontal; actors leaping straight up from the ground and over each other's bodies; Florian Zumkehr doing impossible tricks with an ever-growing pile of chairs; the group at times using skateboards as bats, or making like Fred Astaire with his elegant cane. Troupe members fly through a stack of hoops, then set the top hoop higher, and again higher...until, as one of them poises for action, you want to yell, Don't even try it. He does. The top hoop clatters to the ground. We groan. And then he tries again and succeeds, and we all cheer like mad. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through May 11, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed March 10.

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