Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Evan Adamson's design for a grungy, dirty trailer (one can imagine its scent) is superb. See clothing literally all over the interior and, for example, a "bed" in, to understate, disarray. Ulysses, who writes poetry, has an oxygen tank in a black case strapped upon his back. Otherwise, save for a flimsy apron (costumer Amy Clark) of sorts, the man, not taut, is naked. He is startled when his former wife Emma, who took their five-year-old son and left Ulysses 20 years before, suddenly appears. She brings a few suitcases and shows red welts and bruises, having recently suffered at the hands of husband number two.
Ulysses, afflicted with lung cancer, will not last forever. He, for a couple of decades, has been sending off letters to Sam, their son. The letters were actually mailed, evidently, to Emma's mother and Ulysses never received even one response. Sam, whom we never see, has come upon the collected communications and faults Emma for hiding them.
Rob Ruggiero, always a director who understands and assists in the telling of stories, does so once again with Annapurna. This is not a highly plotted play. It pits two people, with a complicated past, as antagonists. Within the playwright's hands, each becomes a layered person. Further, there are times of tenderness within the script. When Emma comforts Ulysses, as he gasps for breath, the depth of their relationship is further unveiled.
Ulysses is a cowboy and writer, who was an alcoholic, and he is simultaneously gruff and sensitive. A former academic type, he exists, but just barely. Still, for a decade or so, he has been composing a poem called "Annapurna." Emma has taken flight from both her husbands. Rupp sculpts her as smart and strongand searching. That these two once lived together is not a stretch. The chemistry between them, positive or not, is undeniable.
Sam might very well be en route to finally see his father. Emma, midway through the play, moves quickly to pick up and tidy the trailer.
The hook to the entire production is, perhaps, that detailed set. Before a word is uttered, those in the theater peer into this decrepit trailer which yields a view to the rear of some Rocky Mountains. Ruggiero, through sound designer Michael Miceli, brings "Mrs. Robinson" and other tunes of the late 1960s/early 1970s era into the piece. Well into the production, one indicator that this is current day: Emma's use of a cell phone. Ulysses does not have phone service. These people are passionate fighters but neither is as hard or tough as it seems. Instead, loneliness lurks amid the desperation. Could each or both truly heal?
Annapurna is a dark comedy, even as some will find laugh-out-loud humor within. Ulysses has debilitating emphysema but he is audacious, outspoken, and uninhibited. Emma, having grappled with one relationship after another, knows trying times all too well. These two battle hard and White supplies them with sharp and sometimes stinging dialogue. He also strings along those watching these proceedingstheatergoers who might be silently attempting to answer the playwright's questions.
To be certain, there are urgent sequences, tight and dramatic exchanges. Still, the play ends abruptly; no more tension. It might have benefitted from another fervent 10 minutes.
Annapurna continues at TheaterWorks in Hartford through November 9th, 2014. For tickets, call (860) 527-7838 or visit theaterworkshartford.org.
- Fred Sokol