THE BASICS: This two-handed domestic drama by Sharr White premiered in NYC in 2014. The Buffalo premiere, starring Lisa Ludwig and John Profeta, and directed by Terry Kimmel, plays weekends at the New Phoenix Theatre (95 Johnson Park) through May 18th. It runs just over 90 minutes, and has no intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Present day, a trailer home just outside a fly-speck town in the Rockies. Twenty years after Emma, his former wife, abruptly fled, with their young son in tow, Ulysses, formerly an esteemed writer and now a recluse, finds her on his doorstep, with a whole lot of luggage. The two have not communicated at all in two decades. Why has she come? What does she want?
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: Playwright White begins with some brittle comic banter, sparked chiefly by the cantankerous Ulysses. As things move along, however, and the two former lovers guardedly fill each other in, the dialogue become warmer and more human. By the time it is over, we will have been through a veritable walpurgisnacht—a dark night of the soul. This is a play about mother love, and about romantic love gone wrong–so wrong that it damages the participants’ lives beyond all hope of repair. Despite its short run time, ANNAPURNA packs a powerful punch.
Lisa Ludwig, at the top of her dramatic game, occupies the flight-prone Emma like a glove. John Profeta makes a fairly good Ulysses, but, to my mind, seems more Hillbilly than Wasted Literary Lion, and in the end this hurts. Terry Kimmel’s direction, solid, is increasingly successful as the play wends its way into darker waters. The set by Primo Thomas is ambitious, but visually jarring. The cramped, uber-messy quality of the little trailer is not properly emphasized; the large, majestic mountain backdrop claims just too much of our attention.
NB to playwright White: Where are the cigarettes? Given the medical info that’s been provided and the nature of the character as written, it’s ten-to-one that Ulysses is a chain smoker, and that, against medical advice, he is still at it. There was certainly some lost writing opportunity here…
IN SUM: A deceptively potent little drama, consider ANNAPURNA a first cousin of, and a nice warm up for, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? which will be part of the New Phoenix’s big 25th anniversary season. Rounding up, I will give it…
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!