Annapurna, by Sharr White, is a two character romantic drama set off-the-grid in the Rockies. The play opens with a moon view of Ulysses’ (Nick Offerman) butt as he is frying sausage in his filthy, cluttered trailer. We are treated to the actual smell of sausage frying, a technique which was also used in the 2009 production of Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre. Ulysses is dying and must live out his days with an oxygen tank strapped to his back. One wonders why someone who needs oxygen would live in the Rockies? But Ulysses doesn’t really care if he lives or dies, as long as he doesn’t die suffocating, while being administered artificial respiration by he’s unseen hero neighbor, Michael. Enter Emma (Megan Mullally), Ulysses’ long lost ex-wife and the mother of his only child, Sam, who Ulysses has not seen since the child was five years old. As the drama unfolds we learn Ulysses is a writer and that Emma was his editor. In typical writer fashion Ulysses was an alcoholic. He is now sober, something he achieved on his own, after one too many lost weeks. Emma, no longer an editor, but the owner of a dry cleaning chain, has left her second husband after learning that Ulysses is dying and that their son, Sam, is planning to find his father, to meet him and say goodbye before he dies.
Nick Offerman gives a nuanced performance in the Method style. Everything about him screams sad, dying, lonely, writer, longing for his family and regretting mistakes made due to his past drinking. Offerman’s physicality of a now sober, once drunk, now sickly, once strong man is impressive. The emotional life he shows us is riddled with the pain of regret, loss and unfulfilled dreams.
Megan Mullally’s performance is in a different style. More business, more comedic, more obviously acting, and the two styles are not a match. Mullally’s physical and vocal life do not seem to emanate from within, but are assumed, put on for the role. Her performance seems tentative compared to Offerman’s. Ulysses and Emma each learn awful new truths about themselves, but Mullally’s portrayal of Emma’s pain, which should be almost as cataclysmic as Ulysses’, does not have the emotional depth of Offerman’s.
The controlling metaphor for the piece is original and gorgeous. That love, relationships, marriage and raising children are difficult, even deadly climbs. But, like climbing Mt. Annapurna, they can result in a vista of indescribable beauty, and an experience so meaningful that it makes your heart break, or your “tongue hurt”. The epic poem that Ulysses has written, and begins to recite at the end of the play, is the most worthy writing of the piece, and well worth the climb.
Annapurna written by Sharr White; directed by Bart DeLorenzo
Sets by Thomas A. Walsh; costumes by Ann Closs-Farley; lighting by Michael Gend; sound by John Ballinger; production supervisor, PRF Productions; production stage manager, Valerie A. Peterson; general manager, DR Theatrical Management. Presented by the New Group, Scott Elliott, artistic director; Adam Bernstein, executive director; Jamie Lehrer, development director.
With: Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman
At the Acorn Theater, the New Group @ Theater Row, 410 West 42nd Street, Clinton, 212-239-6200, telecharge.com, Through June 1. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.