"King of the Mountains"
A World Premiere by Ben Clawson
Oct. 27-30, 2016 @ Luna Stage, West Orange, NJ
By Patricia Rogers
The Luna Stage 2016-17 season began with a world premiere King of the Mountains, a commissioned play written by one of Luna’s favorites, Ben Clawson. I went to see the production last Thursday, and it was a great start to the new season. I was looking forward to it, more than usual after interviewing the theater’s Artistic Director, Cheryl Katz on what’s to come: an upgrade to the Context Room, new plays, premieres, and new projects from familiar writers. In her usual warm introduction, she expressed the desire to tell this particular story at this time.
King of the Mountains brings us into the wilderness of Yosemite National Park with well-regarded naturalist, John Muir and former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. The two went camping for three days in 1903. That made national impact at the time. It is not known what the two talked about on the trip, but this play gives us a well-written imagined conversation -- an ongoing one, about preservation and conservation in this country. I can see why Luna felt it was relevant.
The play opens and we are on top of the mountain with the two men who are known to be advocates for nature -- Roosevelt, played by Ian Gould is sitting on a stool, and John Muir, played by Rik Walter, a little more comfortable under the big tree. Roosevelt and Muir sized each other up, aggressively discussed their views and more. For 90 minutes, the actors brought comedy and tension together nicely. Brilliant set design, sound, lighting and the set being in the middle allowed us to feel like Gould and Walter were along a top of a mountain.
We see how Roosevelt and Muir might've learned from each other. When they stopped arguing long enough, and digested what each other said, I’m sure they were able to take it all in. In the play in various periods throughout 1903 and 1914, there were letter exchanges. As President, Roosevelt was active in expanding, funding, and promoting the National Park and National Forest systems. John Muir was one of the country’s most beloved naturalists. He was well-regarded for being an ecological thinker, nature writer and an expert in American environmental activity in the twentieth-century. A lot of Roosevelt’s work in putting land under federal protection came after this camping trip.
The Context Room was super cool. I like to go after the show and read more information about the play. The dramaturg Kaitlyn Stillwell is always there to answer questions. It really adds a lot to the overall experience. It was nice to read about the writer Ben Clawson’s inspirations. Seinfeld was one of them, and he remembers watching his first episode when he was in the 5th grade. I also read more about the country’s national parks and John Muir’s work. I had to take a selfie in the photo-booth -- way to keep it modern, Luna Stage!
All in all another interesting play. Another cultural conversation to see and hear, at the right time. How are they able to do it every time? In the letter from the Artistic Director, Cheryl Katz, she notes, “collectively, as a nation, we seem to have lost the ability to recognize where our best interests lie. It seems we have been too preoccupied with reality obsessed by our quest for perfection with how we look, what we eat and how we love. While we were focused elsewhere, our education system has eroded, our judiciary has shifted, our health care system has become less and less humane, and much of what made this country strong and the envy of the world has gone the way of the passenger pigeon.” The state of America is in a state of confusion, what are our priorities? I think King of The Mountains can give us time to think and connect more about what is around us.
About the Writer
Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ, lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012, she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more. She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, and Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services. Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on social media at @valleygirl_nj (Twitter / Instagram).