All-male theater--what a concept. The feminist thing has got a number of guys confused, so they're rethinking issues like the meaning of sports and male bonding, science and metaphysics and, in some instances, the use of profanity. At least that's the initial impression one gets from Patrick Meyers's K2. The production at Fort Collins's Open Stage Theatre is better than this rather lame play deserves; sharp acting and directing and a super set give it more life than does the tedious script. For a much better guy play, tune in James R. Cannon's first, the delightful Sports Talk 2000. Cannon's work covers many of the same metaphysical issues as K2 but with much more wit, joy and complexity. Ad Hoc Theatre Company's absorbing production under James Gale's muscular direction brings out many of the play's strengths with terrific authority. But in Cannon's case, the intelligence is there to begin with.

K2 concerns two climbers confronting Nature half-way up a big mountain. Harold's leg is broken, and Taylor has to think of a way to get him down with ropes and pulleys. It's going to snow soon, and the boys are out of food. The second rope they need is frozen to the mountain on the next crevice above them. So while Taylor climbs up to try to pry it loose, scientist Harold blathers on about how he lost God in quantum physics and found Him again in the quark. During the course of the struggle with the mountain that threatens their lives, the two men discuss women, America's sociopolitical ills and their own feelings for each other. The great question: Can Harold talk Taylor into saving his own life instead of staying by his side and facing certain death?

R. Todd Hoven is a natural on stage--every sentiment that the somewhat superficial Taylor voices sounds real enough from his mouth, and he gives the overblown writing some measure of veracity. David Erikson has the tougher dialogue--all that nonsense about science and God is so au courant that it sounds like a secular sermon.

The two men create an unusual degree of intimacy on stage, and Richard Strahle's fine direction includes some pretty tricky choreography as Taylor falls and is saved by the broken Harold. These are really very polished production values--too bad there isn't more to the play's message than "Hold on! Hold on! Hold on!"

Sports Talk, on the other hand, is amazingly convincing in its use of sports as a metaphor for metaphysics. Herb and Beau are talk-radio hosts who receive a call one day from a mysterious "Birdman" who reminds Beau of a promise he made some years earlier. The entire play then flashes back to 1986 when Beau made that fateful promise on the air. Birdman and Beau, we learn, go way back--and Birdman's uncanny predictions about which teams will win and with what point spread have made Herb a rich man and the show a big success. But Birdman's real interest is in Beau: Beau the skeptic, Beau the angry young man, Beau the jock who walked off the football field during a crucial game between the Saints and the Rams, never to return to the game. Is he an egomaniac or a quitter or a desperately honorable man? Birdman knows. And in the end, Birdman will call in his marker.

Nobody talks about honor anymore--at least not on stage. But playwright Cannon explores what it means to have integrity in the late twentieth century. And he links integrity to immortality in what is an almost brave revelation of Beau's character. If the play has one fault, it is that Cannon needs to be even braver. Birdman cops out on his big radio opportunity, and we never get to hear what he really envisions for humankind in general and Beau in particular. So the play's ending seems a bit muddled and anti-climactic; it needs only the audaciousness of a Don Becker (Lucifer Tonite) to crash the gates of art and say what it really means.

Keith Cory Davis as Herb gives an intensely ugly portrait of a cynical opportunist. Richard R. Cowden keeps the fires of anger and desire raging within Beau, a doubting Thomas with a soul worthy of salvation. Brian Alan Hill does all the radio voices and Birdman with sparkling vitality. And the guys make that small space at The Shop jump with energy--true barbarians at the mike.


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