Annapurna is the latest production by Theatre 22 at 12th Avenue Arts. It’s a two-hander, one set play. It is not an epic. It may not change your life. It is not immersive theatre in the sense that the audience moves around the stage with (which is fine by me and my bad leg). But while it is small in scale and ambitions, it is not small in power or emotion. It’s also one of the 2 productions I have seen thus far this year with the likelihood of ending up on my ten best list for 2016.
Playwright Sharr White’s fascinating character study of Ulysses and Emma, an-ex married couple reuniting with years of rancor and distance between them, is set in Ulysses’ wreck of a trailer above the Colorado mountains. Emma left Ulysses one day because of what seemed to be an unspeakable event he caused, involving their then 5-year-old son Sam, whom Ulysses hasn’t seen in 20 years. Emma arrives with not only this emotional baggage, but also plenty of physical baggage as well. She brings a determination to hash things out before Sam arrives himself, having discovered the twenty years of correspondence from Ulysses that Emma kept from him.
Time is of the essence as Ulysses is slowly, painfully dying of emphysema. The playwright portions out some leavening humor in this dark-hued story. An unseen but hilarious interplay with Ulysses and his yapping dog (who ate the telephone) is a good running joke. Ulysses’ reaction to the food Emma provides is hilarious (“Fritos always smell like wet socks.”) White mines the realization that, even in the worst of reunions, one finds laughter. These two have been through as much, between them, as almost all the characters in August Osage County combined.
It’s a very naturalistic play, and a great vehicle for the right actors, which ace director Julie Beckman happily found for this staging.
Terri Lazzara is all tethered, raw nerve-endings as Emma. She’s appalled at the squalor and near full on nudity her ex-spouse is living in, yet an underlying warmth for the great love of her life comes through loud and clear.
John Q. Smith, as Ulysses, creates a mountainous, unkempt, broken man, whose odyssey since losing his wife and son has been life-draining. Smith runs up and down the keyboard of emotional range, hitting every note from comic bluster to tragic self-loathing. Like all great duets, he and Lazzara are perfectly in sync and bring out the best in each other, and Beckman has directed them in a perfect pitch.
Set designer Michael Mowery fashioned a helluva trailer set, so crammed with junk and dirty clothes that it barely holds room for the actors. It’s well complimented by Ahren Buhmann’s unshowy but sure-handed lighting design. The costumes and props designed by Jen Moon are all one could ask in terms of details and sensibility.
Annapurna doesn’t have anything new to say about the human condition. How the playwright explores familiar territory is enough to recommend it, though, and the two stars shine brightly.
In this case less is truly more, and as such is highly recommended.
Annapurna, a Theatre 22 Production, runs through March 12, 2016 at 12th Avenue Arts-Studio Theatre at 1620 12th Avenue on Capitol Hill. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm Sunday February 28th and Sunday March 6th at 2pm. Industry Night is Tuesday March 8th. All Thursdays are Pay What You Can at the door. Tickets are $18-$25 are available at theatre22.org or Brown Paper Tickets.