Annapurna: Theater Review
Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally play an estranged couple for both laughs and depth in this comedy at West LA’s Odyssey theater.
Even before the show begins at the Odyssey Theatre space in West Los Angeles, we can bask in the impressive set: a cutaway view of a pigsty of a trailer with a serene vista of Colorado’s Mount Gunnison in the background. (There’s been a plethora of cluttered spaces this season, from A Dirty Filthy Love Story to American Buffalo.) Ulysses (Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation), the nearly naked disaffected denizen of this detritus amidst natural splendor, finds his isolation shattered by the unannounced arrival of his estranged wife Emma (Megan Mullally of Will and Grace), twenty years after she fled forever after with their young son, with nary a communication until this moment of his greatest vulnerability.
A formerly acclaimed poet and celebrated professor who has certainly tested the limits of scraping bottom, Ulysses essentially wants to left alone to die, grievances intact, and although he has finally achieved sobriety and destitution after these many years, he remains unaccountably puzzled and irretrievably wounded by why Emma left him and “kidnapped” their child. Emma, for her part, has also avoided confronting the conflicting emotions entangled in their love and marriage.
The play spends much of its first third playing the surprise reunion for laughs, as the these two pros milk their quips in character and scenes frequently black out briefly before jumping ahead some minutes in time. Then, on dramaturgical schedule, the byplay deepens into an intrigue of loss and disappointment until the final movement eventually climaxes in revelations that are so anticipated by any modestly attentive viewer that it is bewildering that the protagonists share such a common bond of obtuseness, if nothing else.
Sharr White has been enjoying conspicuous success with The Other Place on Broadway this season and The Snow Geese set for a fall premiere there, but on the evidence of this piece he seems to develop his themes of reconciliation and commitment with a willful deliberation, arbitrarily illustrating his points by subordinating character to purpose. The controlling metaphor of unflagging dedication and mutual trust required to survive the first scaling of the eponymous Himalayan peak by Maurice Herzog never surmounts its strain for an obvious, and rather dubious, relevance to the bonds between any couple. And naught is helped by hearing the unpublished and apparently quite awful epic poem Ulysses has been scribbling on paper towels and toilet paper over the years as an ode to his ex. One would rather have heard some of the much-vaunted eloquence of his regular letters to his son over the decades that had remained unread until now.
Notwithstanding, it is difficult to imagine a more sympathetic production of this problematic text. Offerman manages to locate the raw nerves within this monstrous misfit without losing fundamental audience sympathy, while Mullally performs rhythmic wonders with her lines as she keeps very busy cleaning the Augean stables, her actions and words often in glorious counterpoint. When she complains that “You can’t just take something somebody says and then turn around and use it against them in an argument,” she makes obstinate absurdity plausible. Both excel at suggesting affection wrapped insecurely in abundant memories of pain. Director Bart DeLorenzo has lavished his customary love on the show, the players and the crafts, so well-marshaled to create an impression that the stakes are more real than the writer has succeeded in making them.
Venue: Odyssey Theatre, West Los Angeles (runs through June 9)
Cast: Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman
Director: Bart DeLorenzo
Playwright: Sharr White
Set designer: Thomas A. Walsh
Lighting designer: Michael Gend
Costume designer: Ann Closs Farley
Music & sound designer: John Ballinger
Produced by Beth Hogan, in association with the Evidence Room