EVIDENCE ROOM & ODYSSEY THEATRE
Ulysses - Nick Offerman
Director - Bart DeLorenzo
Stage Manager - Jenine Macdonald
Backstage Manager - Jason Liska
Graphic Design - Fred Baxter
April 20 - June 9, 2013
Los Angeles Times
What if you had experienced the defining moment of your life – but couldn't remember it?
Sharr White's remarkable two-person play, Annapurna, now at the Odyssey, deals with just that dilemma, as well as other imponderables such as the vagaries of love and the philosophical clarity of impending death.
From White's poignant script to Bart DeLorenzo's faultless direction to Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman's beautifully centered performances, Annapurna is a lovely theatrical construct from the ground up.
The production's slice-of-life specificity begins with Thomas A. Walsh's scenic design, a squalid trailer in the Colorado foothills bespeaking hopelessness in every filthy detail. The magnificent Rockies, looming just outside, stand in ironic counterpoint to this 'purgatory,' a sort of sick animal's burrow where once-celebrated poet Ulysses (Offerman), has come to die.
In the opening scene Ulysses, clad only in an apron and portable oxygen backpack, reacts incredulously to the arrival of his former wife, Emma (Mullally), who decamped with their then-5-year-old son 20 years ago and hasn't been heard from since. It's a comical setup that elicits well-deserved hoots – as indeed does much of White's incisive script, which builds masterfully from hilarity to poignancy.
Once ensconced in her husband's trailer, the bustling Emma sets about cleaning up the mess. With no wasted motion or false 'busy' work, Emma restores relative order to this hoarder's squat – just one example of the verisimilitude of Lorenzo's staging.
Emma's bustling industriousness covers a world of hurt, the cause of which will eventually become apparent. Mullally, most known for her comedic characters on Will & Grace and Children's Hospital, is superbly authentic and matter-of-fact.
But it is Offerman, a regular on Parks and Recreation, who ultimately shatters as a heroically sardonic former boozer in the final days of his life. Together the two parse the past, confronting a mysterious wrong that has condemned both to lives of loneliness and regret.
If White deals with that 'reveal' somewhat reiteratively, it's little matter in this otherwise superb production. Offerman and Mullally are real-life husband and wife, comfortable in their own skins and with each other. Well-matched antagonists, Emma and the dying Ulysses are full of bitter regret – and the kind of gallows humor that derives from raw courage. We are privileged to have met them.
– F. Kathleen Foley
Arts in LA
Sometimes when film and television stars deem to return to the stage – especially small 99-Seat stages where actors are paid just enough for gas to get to the theater – the action is met with grumbles and eye-rolling by those who disdain the star's success. There is nothing even remotely akin to slumming in the Los Angeles debut of Sharr White's astounding Annapurna.
Real-life married couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman met while working together in Charles Mee's The Berlin Circle at Evidence Room in 2000, a relationship that began for Mullally with the excitement that she was asked on a date by someone who had no idea who she was (considering her fame and awards for her work on Will & Grace were already in the wind). The production generated a true romance among Mullally, Offerman, and their director then as now, Bart DeLorenzo. Both actors have had major success since then, but both return to their roots whenever they are able, especially if it involves working with the remarkably prolific DeLorenzo.
This ménage of world-class talent is a fortunate amalgam for White's play, a phenomenal two-character character drama from a playwright who probably will soon be as famous as his current performers. Using the analogy of scaling one of the highest and most treacherous peaks of the Himalayas, White's story thrusts together Ulysses, a beaten-down former poet of some promise reduced to living a penniless and solitary life in a deteriorating gulfstream trailer in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado, with Emma, the ex-wife he has not seen for 20 years, since the day she disappeared with their 5-year-old son in the middle of the night.
Climbing a range takes 'commitment,' a word that signals special meaning for mountain climbers, evoking the moment when there's no chance of returning to civilization from the path originally taken. The same is true for Ulysses and Emma, who shows up at her ex's trailer with food and cash after learning he's dying of lung cancer. 'I'm just passing through,' she tells him. 'Eventually.' In the course of the play's 90-minutes, Emma cleans up Ulysses's squalid, bug-infected, dogshit-encrusted pigsty as he coughs and wheezes and tries to be the pillar of emotionlessness men like him feel they need to be. He knows her arrival after two decades, sporting bruised shoulders and arms, carrying groceries and $17,000 in cash, and pulling a vase of fake flowers from her backpack, means it's time to find out what happened all those years earlier, before he kicks the proverbial bucket – that is, if he can find one not crawling with his friends the ants.
Under the sturdy, austere direction of DeLorenzo and featuring two actors capable of such astonishing commitment to their art, Annapurna is the play and production of the year so far in Los Angeles. How easy it would be for the simple unfolding of these people's enduring love for each other to be boring and more than a tad maudlin, but never once does the story get bogged down in expositionary excess. Offerman is riveting, offering a bravely uncluttered, incredibly honest portrait of a troubled man in enormous pain, physically and emotionally, while the far less showy yet heartbreaking performance of Mullally is a wonderful foil to his work. Mullally, who has had her share of memorable turns on LA stages long after her fireplace mantel was graced by a pair of Emmys and a few other well-deserves awards, seems to be here to support her man – something that so fuels her Emma with as much love as any two people could possibly share.
Even without these odds for success, the indelible debut of Annapurna signals a major new playwright to watch, who, like Williams, turns jarringly dark poetry into difficult dialogue that would be hard to decode in lesser hands than those contributed here by the Offermans and DeLorenzo. And when Ulysses begins orating the first stanzas of the epic poem he has written over the last lonely two decades to the love of his life, the long-absent Emma, Williams again comes to mind, as when the aged Nonno begins reciting 'How Calmly Does the Olive Branch,' the epic poem he has also been composing for 20 years, at the end of The Night of the Iguana. Many writers are compared to Williams, it's true; White might be the one guy who makes that mantle stick.
– Travis Michael Holder