Mountain Language Director’s Notes
This page contains directors notes specifically on Mountain Language. To learn more about directing in general, please visit the Directing page.
I first came across Mountain Language in 1993 when Harold Pinter gave a powerful and very funny performance of the “Any questions?” speech at a reading in Cardiff, Wales. I opted against buying a copy because as a student on a budget, I was unwilling to spend so much money on a play that seemed so short. As Pinter signed my copy of The Homecoming, I wanted to tell him how much I admired the use of silence in his plays, but appropriately enough, I was so intimidated I couldn't’t say a word.
The play is indeed brief, perhaps because it asks a series of difficult questions but provides us with no answers. It is also deeply political, more overtly so than his earlier work. In Mountain Language, an unnamed country is taken over by a regime that is both savagely violent and pedantically bureaucratic. The government represses the Mountain Language, the language of the people, and replaces it with the language of the capital, with its empty phrases and doublespeak. We don’t need to know where these mountains are and what language is spoken there. It is a series of explorations of the ways in which language and silence can be used to exert power over the other.
This is an organization that is frustrated that a form can’t be filled out because the perpetrator of violence is a dog, and a woman is allowed to see their husband tortured because of a computer glitch. Justifying the repeal of human rights on their own incomprehensible bureaucracy brings to mind George Orwell’s 1984 and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. The play as written is set in a prison; this production is set in an office to suggest that oppression can be suffered anywhere, even “civilized” countries. A sterile corporate environment also seemed an appropriate setting for a place in which any atrocity is deemed acceptable if one fills out the proper forms.
The production of Mountain Language began to take shape in the fall of 2002, under the auspices of the University Players, Dramatic Personae and the A&S Drama Department at The University of Hartford. Auditions were held in November of 2002 the play itself was mounted in Auerbach Auditorium in March of 2003.
As I mentioned above, I decided at that time that the production would be based not in a prison, as Pinter’s stage directions stipulate, but in a corporate setting. I invented a corporation, entitled “International Acquisitions” that these officers were a member of. To that end, the set consisted of office cubicles. The cubicles were shifted in scenes two and four to create prison walls, which of course, also dominates the “cubicle culture” that predominates in American business.
I also decided that the audience members should be exposed to this setting from the beginning of their theatrical experience. A sign was placed on the house door stating “International Acquisitions,” and as they walked in they were greeted by members of the corporation handed out a ridiculously bureaucratic 27B/6 form (with apologies to Terry Gilliam and the film Brazil) and asked them a few accusatory questions. The audience members then received a visitor’s pass and entered the auditorium, in which was softly playing elevator music. The audience was therefore made aware that they had entered a bureaucratic world with threatening undertones.
As the audience entered the auditorium, on stage was a pre-show I scripted, which does not exist in Pinter’s play as he wrote it. The guard, played by Justin Moran, was giving a mimed presentation. During the pre-show the Officer showed a number of slides and mimed discussing them. Again, the slides were threatening in an office-speak kind of way.
The scene is set during a monologue (there will eventually be a link here to a quicktime video of the "any questions" speech) in scene one, when the officer gives the speech mentioned above, in which he tells the Mountain People they must not speak under any circumstances, then asks, "any questions?"