FRINGE 2018 REVIEW: 'The Mountains Did Quake'

An ambitious reimagining of the ancient epic of Gilgamesh

"The Mountains Did Quake" - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
"The Mountains Did Quake"

Award-winning Cincy Fringe veterans Karim Muasher and Carrie Brown, together known as Animal Engine, have brought their newest work The Mountains Did Quake, the Hillsides Did Tremble to this year’s Fringe Festival. Animal Engine has a knack and a passion for reinvigorating much-loved stories: their take on Peter Pan, Darlings, and their Willa Cather-inspired Petunia and Chicken were runaway Fringe hits in past years.

The Mountains Did Quake is an ambitious reimagining of the ancient epic of Gilgamesh. Predating even Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, Gilgamesh originated in the Mesopotamian city of Uruk, what is roughly modern-day Iraq. Gilgamesh is a king of divine descent (goddess mom and god/king dad). He is a terrible, selfish ruler who lords over his unhappy subjects. When Gilgamesh meets his best friend, Enkidu, they immediately set off on a quest to kill a demon. Successful, they return home, only for Enkidu to be killed shortly thereafter. Gilgamesh, who thought his journeying was over, sets out again, but this time in search of the secret to immortality. Ultimately, Gilgamesh fails in his second quest and returns home for the final time, humbled, at peace with his limits, and therefore, free to be a good king.

When Brown and Muasher appear onstage in identical blue tracksuits, it seems an odd choice for an ancient Middle Eastern epic. But Animal Engine quickly explains: the audience is actually inside a state-sponsored re-education center, and Brown and Muasher are the re-educators. The Mountains is set in an authoritarian society where we learn that “individuality is oppressed in favor of obedience to an all-powerful dictator” and storytelling is “an act of underground rebellion.” The pair is delightfully funny in these roles. They trained as clowns and draw on a broad range of theatrical tools — language, physicality, audience participation – to land bit after bit, joke after joke. “Isn’t complete obedience to the state fun?” Muasher hoots to the crowd.

But just when the audience is comfortable, relaxing into the goofy comedy, Brown and Muasher change gears : Everything you’ve just seen is a lie, they say. And the real story begins to unfold.

Brown and Muasher are top-shelf storytellers, able to guide an audience along a journey from belly laughs, to thoughtful introspection, and even to fear. Using a minimalist set and shadow puppetry, Animal Engine creates worlds within worlds within worlds that hang together in a larger, structurally sound narrative. The Mountains is a brand new work :Cincy Fringers are the show’s inaugural audience. The performance has fresh energy, but also the herky-jerky feel of a piece still finding its legs.

Told with their trademark hyper-creativity, Animal Engine’s The Mountains showcases an innovative blend of stories that invites the audience to lean forward, listen up and ask questions. 

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