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Grace, or The Art of Climbing

Julie Jesneck as Emm
Julie Jesneck as Emm
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
As the title implies, this is a meditation on intangibles, arranged as a journal of a young woman, Emm (Julie Jesneck), as she revisits the sport of climbing that she learned from her father, Abe (John Hutton), when she was a kid.

If you had told me eight years ago, when the Denver Center Theatre Company's Colorado New Play Summit began, that it would commission and produce a play on climbing, I would have thought it a stretch, even if the name of the festival reflects the majestic peaks that define our sense of place; yet here we are, working on our belaying with Emm and her trainers on a wonderfully elaborate rigging (kudos to Dane Laffrey's design) that reveals the changing aspects of a climbing wall as the earnest summiteers ascend and descend the heights.

Julie Jesneck as Emm and John Hutton as Abe
Julie Jesneck as Emm
and John Hutton as Abe
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
The nerve and concentration required to properly traverse sheer stone faces requires a clear head, something that Emm does not have when she arrives back at her dad's place after a breakup with her beau, Sam (a sympathetic and guileless Christopher Kelly). Playwright Lauren Feldman lyrically weaves in visitations—sometimes fleeting, sometimes lingering—from the most important people in Emm's life, as daily psychological and emotional obstacles are metaphorically transformed into climbing challenges.

Jesneck's energy and physicality totally capture Emm's near manic approach to life after Sam. We bounce off the walls with her, and resonate with her refusal to fall, even if, under the safety of the harness and carabiners, we need to stretch and fail to define our limits, so that when the time comes, we are prepared.

Christopher Kelly as Sam, Julie Jesneck as Emm, M. Scott McLean as Mick, and Emily Kitchens as Dell
Christopher Kelly as Sam,
Julie Jesneck as Emm,
M. Scott McLean as Mick,
and Emily Kitchens as Dell
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Over the years, on the rare occasions when the opportunity has presented itself (e.g., Segismundo in Life is a Dream, 1998), John Hutton bares his chest and, through his character, convinces us that there are certain people who have hegemony over rocks and other, presumably, immoveable phenomena. Such is his Abe, until ...

Meanwhile, M. Scott McLean, Emily Kitchens, Alejandro Rodriguez, and Dee Pelletier draw a series of terrific portraits as the BFM, BFF, and the trainers.

John Hutton as Abe and Julie Jesneck as Emm
John Hutton as Abe
and Julie Jesneck as Emm
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
As a meditation, Grace, or The Art of Climbing, may not produce a catharsis, but then that is not the point, much as a nocturne or rhapsody has different objectives than a symphony.

The Denver Center Theatre's world premiere of Grace, or The Art of Climbing, directed by Mike Donahue, runs through February 17th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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