Theater Review: NIU production of ‘The Ascent of F6’ presents a challenge

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Puzzles are my passion, and the recent production of The Ascent of F6 produced at Northern Illinois University’s School of Theatre and Dance gave me a real challenge. The program presented a few clues — the names of the playwrights, the poet W.H. Auden and writer Christopher Isherwood, and a listing of historical events between the years 1928 and 1932. Having a little of Auden’s work, I was aware of his poetry. My familiarity of Isherwood was based on his plays and movies, I Am a Camera and Cabaret. Currently reading Ralph Ellison’s biography, there were several references to Auden and Isherwood as contributors to far-left publications for which Ellison also wrote.

My next step was to ask a friend to see what was available on the Internet, saving me a trip to the library, and although not every detail was available, many questions were answered. The Ascent of F6 was written and produced in the mid-’30s. Isherwood, born in England, attended school in Surrey, where he first met Auden. After spending several years in Germany, in 1936 he and Auden collaborated, the result being Ascent… He and Auden decided to immigrate to the United States just before World War II, and he soon moved to California and became active in the film industry.

Now back to The Ascent of F6. It is a fictional story of an English colony and an adjoining country separated by an Alpine-like mountain range that presents climbers a constant challenge. The British colony and that of rival nation Ostnia have organized teams to see who can first reach the peak of F6. James Ransom, played by Nick Roesler, is a British cabinet member, who persuades his twin brother, Michael, played by Drew Mierzejewski, to organize a group of climbers for the glory of “Old England.”

The large cast play multiple roles from English peers to monks on the far side of the mountain. An interesting aspect of the staging was the two characters seated at stage left in a cozy English home. Their names, Mr. and Mrs. A., were their only identity, and their dialogue had obviously been written in Auden’s poetic form. The commentary reflected the view of the average British citizen. Kate Booth was Mrs. A., and Dan Reilly, her husband, Mr. A.

In presenting such a complicated production, my suggestion would be to include the program “Director’s notes,” some information on the playwrights, and some clues to the context of the work. It might be that the entire audience except me were completely aware of all that information, but so it goes. The upcoming production of The Wiz should be no problem for me.

A helpful note … the program included an Area Arts Events Calendar that lists events in Rockford, DeKalb, Elgin and Schaumburg. To get more details about future performances, call the box office at the Stevens Building on the NIU campus — (815) 753-1600.

From the March 7-13, 2012, issue

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