Brokeback Mountain

“Brokeback Mountain makes us confront a history that cannot be left on the mountainside”.

As we enter the beautiful auditorium of the relatively new @sohoplace we are confronted with a bleak and sparse sight. A late-middle-aged man lies, sleeping restlessly in a bed.  Other than this we see a bare table and a simple kitchen sink.  The man is Ennis Der Mar its 2013 and over the next ninety minutes we are to see how his life became as bleak as his home.

By the magic of theatre and the wondrous hydraulic possibilities of the @sohoplace theatre we are transported back to 1963. Ennis looks into his younger days, in a sort of flashback/story telling.  Here we see him meet Jack Twist an agile man out to make money in order to continue his dream as a rodeo rider.  The young men: Twist played by Mike Faist and Ennis played by Lucas Hedges find themselves thrown together by sheep farmer Joe.  He sends them up to Brokeback Mountain to protect his flocks from the coyote.  It’s a bleak job, but it pays.

And so we see a story playout that goes from loathing, to lust, to love to loneliness. 

This show is billed as a play with music – and the country-influenced music composed by Dan Gillespie Sells certainly adds to the work, acting as it does as a commentary on the scenes and offering an echo of Annie Proulx’s original short story.  The music is performed by some skilled musicians led by Sean Green which some other producers might have left the music to pre-record, but luckily for us the live band add so much more, with an almost worship song feel to the performance.

One of the issues for Brokeback Mountain is that it is birthed from sparsity of Proulx’s original short story.  The best parts of the play are when the cast say nothing and let their skilful acting do the talking. At times there feels too many words, the dialogue seems to want to push the story on too quickly. We seem to see the relationship between Twist and Ennis develop too quickly and deteriorate at the same pace  - even if we are supposed to be witnessing 20 years of memories.  It was a choice to make this a single act work of ninety minutes – but maybe an interval and a little more stage time would have allowed us to feel more for the characters.  Some of whom should demand more empathy from us than they do.

Brokeback Mountain is a seminal story and for many a life changing, emotional film.  The play has a lot to live up to, and although flawlessly performed, leaves you feeling emotionless which is probably the feeling of the older Ennis who has stalked the stage.  Of course, it’s hard to give us a happy ending with such a sad background, from a time when people were not permitted to love who they loved- and society was happier unhappily conforming and making other people conform to their unhappiness.  Brokeback Mountain makes us confront a history that cannot be left on the mountainside in the same way as Ennis’ memories will not allow him to leave his love up there.

This show was reviewed on the 19th May 2023.  Brokeback Mountain runs at the @sohoplace until the 12th August 2023.  Tickets available here: Brokeback Mountain (sohoplace.org)

Review written by Paul Wood

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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