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Annapurna, the name of a two-mile-high mountain in the Alps, is also the name of North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre’s latest presentation, coproduced with Honest Pint Theatre Company. The play, written by Sharr White, was first produced by the New Group of New York City in 2011.
The work is a two-person show that centers on the reuniting of a couple that has been twenty years apart. It has been two decades since Emma (Susannah Hough) took their five-year-old son and left Ulysses (David Henderson) in the dead of night. Ulysses has never recovered from the separation. A former English professor and published poet, Ulysses is a broken man. He spends his days high in the Rockies in a small and broken-down trailer where the days are too hot and the nights too cold. He has written the sum total of one poem since Emma split. When Emma arrives, unannounced, at his doorstep, she finds him naked but for a loincloth and oxygen tank. The heat explains his lack of clothing; his failing health explains the oxygen. Ulysses is suffering from lung cancer, and he is not long for this world.
Ulysses is at first shocked, but ultimately belligerent, at Emma's arrival; he gives her exactly five minutes to explain her arrival or vacate the premises. Emma, on the other hand, is less than forthcoming. It takes her quite some time to admit that she has left her second husband and come to take care of Ulysses in his final days. In so doing, she has robbed Peter, her second husband, of their savings and left him, also in the dead of night, without explanation.
The problem that exists between Ulysses and Emma is Sam, their son. It takes a great deal of prodding from Ulysses and a lot of deflecting on Emma's part before she finally admits that Sam is on his way here. Sam, it seems, blames Emma for ruining his life, and he wants to rejoin Ulysses before it is too late. Emma has come to make Ulysses presentable for Sam. As she bluntly puts it, "You didn't think I came here for you, did you?" Whether Ulysses wants her there or not, it is clear that he needs someone in his failing days.
Henderson as Ulysses portrayed a man railing against the world, yet was still able to provide the audience with glimpses of the character's inner child. He also nailed the physicalization of this gruff, angry, and extremely ill individual. From his fits of chills to his fits of coughing, it was as real a characterization as I have seen in some time.
Hough as Emma was soft on the outside but steely on the inside, which made the production a tremendous interaction between two strong wills. Hough had a firm resolve, but still managed to show a buried loved behind her every move.
Under the direction of Dana Marks, these two characters came to life. Their bittersweet reunion was crisp, dynamic, and as realistic as Miyuki Su's trailer home set.
Annapurna is also the name of the one poem that Ulysses has written. It is his magnum opus, an epic poem that describes his life with and without his life's love. As Ulysses begins to recite this poem for Emma in the last moments of the play, the future of this family and the prospects of its survival become clear.
Superb, dynamic, and sharp characterizations make Annapurna the one play you should see this month.
Annapurna continues through Sunday, September 6. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.