None Too Fragile’s production of ‘Annapurna’ is a challenging climb up a steep trail
As with most great ancient literature, controversy follows like a hungry puppy. The epic poet Homer who is credited with writing the Odyssey may or may not have lived during the 8th century BC or for that matter existed at all. Regardless, we have major works to study about the Greek hero Ulysses who was forced to undertake a ten year journey following the decade long Trojan War while his wife and son thought him dead. Fast forward to 2014 where playwright Sharr White has taken this epic poem and transformed it into a contemporary play that premiered Off-Broadway.
Ulysses (Jeffrey Grover*) has fallen on hard times. He lives in a crummy trailer surrounded by other crummy trailers and (by his description) even crummier “goodie-two-shoes” neighbors in the West Elk Mountain Range in Colorado where clothing seems to be an option. “It’s like the ugliest, saddest accidental nudist colony you ever saw.” In fact, the only redeeming quality of the location is the mountain views. Ulysses’ former claim to fame was that of cowboy poet turned English Professor turned untreated alcoholic turned emphysema and lung cancer victim (due to his multi-decade long packs a day cigarette addiction).
He receives a small monthly pension amounting to around $650 plus an occasional royalty check for poetry books he wrote and with nearly zero expenses except for food he manages. There is no phone since the dog ate it “cord and all just like spaghetti” and he is pretty much off the grid.
As the lights go up we see a naked Ulysses nonchalantly frying sausage clad only in an apron (due to a past cooking mishap) with an oxygen tank strapped to his back and a large abdominal bandage covering his chest. An air tube runs from the pack to his nose supplying him with life extending enriched air.
The door burst open and Emma (Derdriu Ring*) enters luggage in hand. Emma is Ulysses’ ex-wife 20 years removed. After an exchange of WTFs the stage goes dark. This scene is reenacted two more times with variations before the body of the one act 90 minute long play settles in.
*Members of Actors Equity Association.
As the couple begins to catch up on each other’s lives we learn that they are parents of a twenty something male named Sam or Sammy. Emma and five year old Sammy left in the middle of the night twenty years ago due to something that Ulysses did during an alcoholic black out. Ulysses wrote faithfully twice a week to Sammy sending the letters to their last known address (Emma’s mother’s house in Rhode Island) until five years ago when the letters began to be returned due to her death.
While cleaning the deceased woman’s house the letters were discovered in trunks and boxes. Having read the letters and realizing that his father did indeed love him, Sammy wants to reconnect with his dad and Emma is there to soften the blow.
The sausage is spoiled (five pounds for a dollar at the dollar store) and is food for “Jessie” (AKA Hell Hound) who is heard barking nearly continuously during the play. As Emma lugs in bag after bag it becomes apparent that she intends to live there for a spell in spite of being remarried to someone else. After a shower she changes into a sundress revealing a series of bruises about the upper part of her body.
The chess game begins as each party will only give a little bit of information in exchange for like measure. It is through this slow and painful manner we get the answers concerning Emma and Sam’s abrupt disappearance 20 years ago, Ulysses’ slow descent into poverty and near alcoholic madness with his eventual sobering up and a new book of poetry written on paper towels and napkins “my best ideas come to me when I am hungry” and why Emma is there in the first place with more stuff then Ulysses owns as well as $17,000 cash. One thing that is apparent is that in spite of twenty years of estrangement Emma and Ulysses once loved each other and still do.
The show is designed for mature audiences with lots of language, adult themes and some nudity. The set serves OK as a seedy residence on wheels with distressed captain chairs, a table and a forlorn couch but there is a distinct lack of “mess” as Emma cleans places that by all appearance do not need it. The only noticeable clutter is the sink full of dirty pots, pans and dishes which never get touched. Emma apparently only does counters and tables but not dishes. The two actors pace the action carefully through the direction of Sean Derry building to a simmering then boiling climax as all is eventually revealed.
For those looking for a really adult night out look no further than this performance. From the opening scene with male nudity to the profanity and frank discussion of spousal abuse and death this is no Disney production suitable for the entire family. It is abrupt, sharp, concise and in parts extremely funny. This show is for people who don’t mind a bit of shock value with their theater.
The creative team consists of Sean Derry, Director; Brian Kenneth Armour, Stage Manager; Marina Lauff, Director’s Assistant; Sean Derry and Marina Lauff, Set and Props Design; Sean Derry, Afton Derry and Benjamin Gregorio, Set Construction; Sean Derry, Lighting Design; Kevin Ozan, Lighting Technician, Brian Kenneth Armour, Sound design; Committee, costume Design with Alanna Romansky and Jaysen Mercer handling Website, Box Office and promotion duties.
Annapurna will be on stage with None Too Fragile through November 19, 2016 at Pub Bricco located at 1835 Merriman Road in Akron, Ohio. Tickets may be purchased by phone (330) 962-5547 or online at https://squareup.com/store/none-too-fragile.