Tuesday, May 06, 2014


In Sharr White's Annapurna, a by-the-numbers but diverting two-hander, Emma shows up in ex-husband Ulysses's dilapidated trailer 20 years after she took their son and disappeared while he slept off a major drunk. Now Ulysses is dying, and Emma has just left her (second) husband of 20 years. Why is she there? Does she want to mend fences? Take care of Ulysses? Is she still angry? Does she still love him? These questions, and more, will be answered over the next 95 minutes.
Nick Offerman brings full life to the hurt, puzzled, and gruff semi-hermit and poet Ulysses, a porcupine of a character, full of quills. Ulysses is not quite able to protect his soft underbelly, particularly since it sports a huge post-surgery bandage. He also carries an oxygen tank and is so weak that putting on a shirt is an effort. But his emotional pain is larger, and more important to him, than the physical.

Megan Mullally is not quite Offerman's equal. Her thin voice undercuts her power, and she has a leaning toward whiny. Also, she wears glasses, and they block part of her performance from the audience. She and Offerman also have less chemistry than one might expect, since they are a couple in real life.

The play's structure is odd, starting cutesy with flash scenes and blackouts, giving it the vibe of a light comedy rather than the serious piece it turns out to be. Also, White relies on some fairly cheap bits, including having Ulysses bare-assed when Emma arrives. More importantly, in his desire to mete out information dramatically, White succumbs to some artificial conversational exchanges, and parts of the story simply don't make sense.  Many of the play's weaknesses are redeemed in the last half hour, however, when the play becomes more specific, the secrets are revealed, and the relationship between the two characters expands into three dimensions.

The set, designed by Thomas A. Walsh, is excellent, giving us much to look at and summing up Ulysses in one room. The lighting, by Michael Gend, fails to help the audience feel the midday heat when the sun is directly overhead. The costume design by Ann Closs-Farley fits the characters' personalities perfectly.

While Annapurna is far from a classic, I imagine it will be much appreciated by people want to see TV stars Mullally and Offerman perform in person.

(sixth row on the aisle)

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