Annapurna is a mountain that rises some 26,000 feet in the northern part of Nepal. It was once climbed by two men who just made it to the peak, only to make one fatal mistake on their way down. One of the men dropped his glove, and watched it fall just before storms arrived, forcing him to attempt to use ropes with an ungloved hand. It didn’t work. One small mistake ruined a triumphant achievement for two people. Annapurna is also a play currently running courtesy of the New Group, playing at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row in New York. It’s a metaphor for the mountain story, and that’s how it earned its title.
It’s in one act, runs 95 minutes, is by Sharr White, whose The Snow Geese served Mary Louise Parker at the Manhattan Theatre Club in April 2013 as part of its subscription season. White is also the author of The Other Place, which starred Laurie Metcalf off Broadway and again at the Samuel Friedman Theatre on Broadway in another Manhattan Theatre Club production. These are all plays that would have had a hard time finding a producer were it not for the not-for-profits.
Once again, Mr. White has written a complex and challenging role, this time for Megan Mullalley, who continues to find employment in theatre, playing ladies very unlike “Karen Walker” whom she introduced on the sitcom “Will and Grace”. It and she were so popular she’s had to work hard to remind her public that she has more than one string to her bow. In Annapurna she is Emma, middle aged wife to Ulysses (Nick Offerman), from whom she’s been separated for 20 years. One day, without warning, she appears at his trailer door, where he is lodged in the wilderness of Paonia, Colorado, surrounded by snow capped mountains. She’d been looking for him for years, but he has no phone, and he’s moved about, not wanting to be found. Some fortuitous information came Emma’s way, and here she is, at his front door.
The play is set in a rat trap of a large motor home which has seen better days. It’s been occupied for years by Ulysses as a total escape from the real world. It looks as though it hadn’t been cleaned in years; the first sight we have of it tells us instantly that its occupant has lost all interest in life, and his “home” barely protects him from the howling winds, the weather and the world. His only companion is a hound who spends a lot of time outside the trailer, barking at everything that passes by.
The play begins when Ulysses, wearing naught but that skimpy towel apron, is surprised to see his wife, in his doorway, just returned from a twenty year retreat from their marriage. One night she simply walked out the door, took their five year old son Sam with her, and drove away. We will learn much of what happened, and ultimately we will come to know why she left without a word of warning. That’s it. That’s Annapurna the play, and it offers the real life Mr. and Mrs. Offerman two intriguing characters to bite into, and bite they do, each coming up with dozens of nifty switches of mood and tempo as their story unravels.
The set design by Thomas A. Walsh contributes mightily, for at the start it is a total mess, and it entices with rich detail. Dirty dish towels are strewn about, an unmade bed lies beneath an unwashed window. Clothes are everywhere they shouldn’t be, newspapers cover half the bedroom floor, and there is Ulysses, in the altogether, barely covered by his dirty apron, not the least bit ashamed of what this domicile might reveal about himself. Clearly he just doesn’t care.
Mr. White spoon feeds us what information she has for us, and I won’t spoil it for you by passing it on. I found it interesting enough to hold me, and its one big secret is neatly held until it can no longer be contained. My one suggestion would be that it may have been held just a tad too long; there are sections of the tale that tell us more than we need to know, and though Ms. Mullalley spends most of the play cleaning up the mess, she would be able to accomplish it in five minutes less time. The dialog rings true and the performances are filled with specifics that make both characters come alive. Bart DeLorenzo has staged it well, and I would ask only that he have one more look at it and take his pruning shears to the middle section, where a cut line here, another there, would tighten this small but dramatic tale into a more compelling whole.
Annapurna runs through June 1, 2014 at The Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036.
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Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, playwright, librettist, columnist adds novelist to his string of accomplishments, with the publication of his first novel, TAKE A GIANT STEP. His first book, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrates his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes. Both books are available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
He has also written the book to SHINE! The Horatio Alger Musical which was a triple prize winner at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF).
Each year, Actors Equity recognizes the year’s most outstanding supporting player with, appropriately enough, the Richard Seff Award.