Friday, October 17, 2014

Theater Review: Annapurna -- TheaterWorks

Debra Jo Rupp and Vasili Bogazianos. Photo: Lanny Nagler
Exploring the Mountains that Need Climbing in Relationships
By Lauren Yarger
When Emma (Debra Jo Rupp) shows up at her ex’s rundown trailer, she brings a lot of baggage – literally and metaphorically, in Sharr White’s Annapurna, opening the season at TheaterWorks.

The suitcases aren’t the only metaphor, either. Set Designer Evan Adamson provides a backdrop of the imposing Colorado mountains surrounding ex-husband Ulysees’ laundry and food-littered trailer as another reminder that relationships are full of mountain climbing – the hard work it takes to rise above the things that cause gaps in them.

Ulysses (Vasili Bogazianos) isn’t exactly welcoming when Emma starts moving in uninvited. After all, it has been 20 years since the couple split. Ulysses doesn’t really remember the details of the night Emma left. He was drunk. All he knows is that she left with their 5-year-old son, Sam, and he hasn’t seen him since, even though he wrote the boy letters every week for years.

Those letters recently prompted Sam to track down the location of his poet father, but Emma decided to come first, especially after discovering that her ex-husband probably is dying following unsuccessful surgery to treat his lung cancer. The condition is hard to hide – Ulysses coughs a lot, wears a portable oxygen tank and very little clothing, revealing the bandage on his chest (Costume Design by Amy Clark).

As details about the marriage and the night that resulted in its shatter are revealed, it becomes obvious that Emma never quite got over the intense feelings she had for Ulysses. In fact, she has left her less-exciting, recently abusive husband, Peter, to carry her baggage up a mountain to come clean Ulysses trailer. She also offers Ulysses some money she stole from home if it will help with his treatments.

Though decades have gone by, the couple still seems to know each other very well.

“Don’t open the mini fridge,” Ulysses advises, knowing that the smell will upset Emma’s stomach.

Ulysses hasn’t forgotten anything about Emma, it appears. In fact, his latest epic poem, composed mainly on napkins and scraps of paper that fill a large cardboard box, is all about her. It’s called “Annapurna,” inspired by a section of the Himalayas referencing a goddess of the harvest – without whom, everyone starves.

Rob Ruggiero directs the two hander which brings the talented Rupp, who starred as Ruth Westheimer in Becoming Dr. Ruth, back to the TheaterWorks stage. If you are a fan of the soap “All My Children,” you will recognize Bogazianos as Benny Sago There is good onstage rapport between the two characters, even if the play leaves us unconvinced that there should be.

Reconciliation between these two seems more a forced notion to fuel a play than reality. There are just too many gaps between the mountains to make it plausible. Underlying the action is Emma’s lack of self esteem, which never really is addressed. She thinks being in an abusive relationship or covering up truth about his father are the best ways to keep her son’s love.

Annapurna plays through Nov. 9 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl st., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; (860) 527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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