BWW Reviews: Dramatic Peaks are a Far Climb Away in ANNAPURNA
Thanks to a pair New York's non-profit theatre companies, playwright Sharr White has been getting quite a bit of high-profile exposure in the past year and a half. Manhattan Theatre Club mounted The Other Place and Snow Geese on Broadway in 2013, and now The New Group takes on Annapurna.
But like the two previous efforts, a study of a brilliant woman's psychological deterioration and a Chekhovian-style family drama, his latest one treads familiar territory - an estranged couple hashing out old issues - without adding anything new or interesting.
Though the title refers to a mountainous region of Nepal, named for the Hindu goddess of nourishment, the play is set among the peaks of Paonia, Colorado.
Real-life spouses Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman star as Emma and Ulysses, who have not seen each other since Emma ran off with their 5-year-old son in the middle of the night twenty years ago. His letters, addressed to Emma's mom, have all gone unanswered.
Ulysses, naturally, is a poet. A rather notable one, too, at a time. But after taking up cigarettes to help kick an alcohol addiction, he's now living out what are surely his final days reclusively in a cramped, unkempt trailer home (terrific work by set designer Thomas A. Walsh). Bouts with emphysema and lung cancer have him living with an oxygen tank secured to him in a backpack.
Save for a cooking apron, Ulysses is naked at the start of the play, when Emma suddenly appears unexpectedly at his door. He would have been completely naked except for the fact that he's frying sausages at the time and has learned from experience of the dangers of splattering grease.
It seems their son has hired a private investigator to discover his dad's whereabouts and has resolved to come see him. Emma arrives ahead of him to prepare her ex for the moment. Though technically not a goddess, Emma does arrive with types of nourishment.
The play tends to alternate between light comic banter and serious discussion about their marriage and of exactly what happened on the night Emma left. As directed by Bart DeLorenzo, Mullally and Offerman work well together, he as a figure of rugged simplicity and she as an overthinking New England intellectual, but the author never establishes sufficient tension or any emotional pull that stirs up interest in seeing what happens to the couple. The bulk of the evening is about Ulysses being content with playing out his life the way it is and Emma, fleeing from another bad marriage, seeming pathetically needy as she pushes herself on him.
Any dramatic peaks seem a far climb away.