Cry of the Mountain; Hamner Theater; Continues July 22-23 at Live Arts and July 29 at Play On!

What a shame that phrases like, “It’s the sleeper hit of the season,” are total bullshit because Adelind Horan’s Cry of the Mountain is an appropriate candidate for such a statement. Here we have simple, engrossing theater in the form of a one-woman performance about the mountaintop removal form of coal mining. Maybe that sounds like the last thing you want to see. Your thought would be understandable and incorrect.

Horan’s performance puts one in mind of David Mamet’s axiom, “That which comes from the heart goes to the heart.”

In Cry of the Mountain, young Horan portrays a handful of characters who are connected to the coal industry. These characters also happen to be real people whom she has interviewed and here reproduces with every stutter, mannerism and pause graciously preserved. Comparisons to, say, Anna Deavere Smith or even the early stagework of John Leguizamo might be inevitable and not unwarranted. We can see, with honesty, these people, these characters, making genuine realizations and oddly ironic comments about their lives. I am a little worried that, should this production draw its likely success, the whole ordeal will go to Horan’s head, at which point the thing is ruined.

Horan approaches the jagged shores of caricature but never quite lands there. One of the most wonderful things to witness onstage is restraint. It gets dicey, especially in the final scene where, as Larry Gibson, Horan walks an incredibly thin wire. At any moment, she could snuff the mood with a false glare, huff, murmur. She doesn’t.

Driving to the Hamner, I thought specifically of David Mamet’s disdain for “funny voices,” which are a convenient tool for actors who need to cut to the quick. It’s within the DNA of plays like Cry of the Mountain. I should have trusted producer Ray Nedzel and Horan more. Upon leaving, I thought again of Mamet, this time saying, “That which comes from the heart goes to the heart.” Cry of the Mountain might want to persuade, but that’s not the effect it creates. This is not agit-prop art—which, by the way, tends to attract the already-converted—but, instead, it’s art that presents stories. Nothing big, just stories. Hear what you want to hear.

A key observation of the evening: Rainwater hits the top of a mountain and flows to the bottom, picking up pollutants and nutrients alike, destroying portions of land while building up new land elsewhere, without prejudice, as it moves downward. Horan’s narrative beautifully calls upon this metaphor to hint at poverty, industry, class, race and politics. The term “trickle-down economics” is represented by implication, if not by name. Between scenes, Horan sips from a Brita-type filter where gravity pulls water downward through rough grains of carbon as a method of purification.

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