Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"Annapurna’s" journey is a worthwhile trek

John Q. Smith and Teri Lazzara in Annapurna (Robert Falk)
Annapurna
Theatre22
Through March 12, 2016

Seattle is having a mini-Sharr White festival. The first production is Annapurna by Theatre22. The next one will be The Other Place at Seattle Public Theater.  Sharr White, from the sharply drawn characters and plot of Annapurna, is a playwright to notice. And this was not the play nominated for a Tony…that’s The Other Place.

Annapurna is a play full of projective references. The title is the name of a real mountain with a storied history of treacherous ascents. The mountain is symbolic of a treacherous relationship between Emma and Ulysses. They were once married. Ulysses was a cowboy poet and professor. They had a child. Something happened twenty years ago to cause Emma to run from their home with their son. Ulysses was too drunk to remember why.

Now, twenty years later, Ulysses is dying of lung cancer and living in the Colorado mountains, alone and reclusive. Suddenly, Emma shows up.


Emma tells Ulysses that their now grown son will be there any minute and as she surveys the filthy conditions that Ulysses has allowed himself to live in, she begins to clean up, so their son does not find Ulysses in such deplorable conditions.

The play is essentially a harrowing journey through reunification, reconciliation, and recounting of secrets revealed. At 90 minutes, it’s intensely acted by John Q. Smith and Teri Lazzara. Both of them are capable and immersive, throwing themselves into their roles with full commitment.

With keen direction by Julie Beckman, the two actors circle each other like prize fighters, working in jabs and jokes, reacquainting themselves, exchanging history with a big elephant in the room. The stage is Ulysses’ trailer, a small, stifling hot metal box (courtesy designer Michael Mowery).

Lazzara has the more difficult job of the two. Emma is not a very likable character from the beginning. The audience has to warm up to her and she gets more likable as we find out more about Ulysses that makes us dislike him more. Smith has such a warm presence on stage that he seems more cantankerously charming at first.

Often, when a play hinges on a big reveal, playwrights sometimes over-promise and the reveal turns out not to be worth waiting for. This play has a great reveal that almost no one would guess. So, the end becomes the cataclysm that one hopes for. And allows the relief of understanding that you crave.

This is one of those plays where you expect the actors to continue to find more depth and more intricacies as they play the roles, so you know this will continue to get better and better. It’s not an easy play to do, with tons of props (real food) and clutter. The emotional landscape is just as cluttered and the actors must manage a huge range of reaction, believably remembering a romance that has long been extinguished.

Theatre22 has done it, again! The pairing of Beckman and Theatre22 continues to make magic. Go enjoy this well done production.

For more information, go to www.theatre22.org or call 206-257-2203.