NEW YORK—Certain things that happened in the past can never be forgiven or forgotten, as noted in The New Group’s powerful presentation of Annapurna.
Ulysses (Nick Offerman), a former poet and recovering alcoholic, is living the life of a hermit in a dilapidated trailer near the foothills of the Colorado Mountains. (“Annapurna,” the title, refers to a mountain range in Nepal.)
His ex-wife Emma (Megan Mullally) suddenly appears, luggage in tow, and makes herself at home. Emma walked out on him 20 years earlier, taking along their young son, Sam.
The reason for her sudden return, she explains, is that the now 26-year-old Sam has discovered the letters Ulysses has been writing to him all these years and is probably on his way to renew his relationship with his father.
However, since Sam has the image of Ulysses being some sort of hero, Emma is determined to remake both the trailer and Ulysses, who has a habit of walking around naked most of the time, in an attempt to fit that image.
As Ulysses unleashes one verbal dig after another, which Emma easily parries, the long-simmering hostility between the two becomes apparent. Ulysses is angry about his wife suddenly leaving him, thus costing him a chance to be a father to his son. He admits to having no real recollection of just what went on the night she left, being deep in an alcoholic haze at the time.
Emma, meanwhile, continues to try to get past the barriers of annoyance and nonchalance her ex keeps throwing up. Though she obviously still has strong feelings for him, she is not trying to rekindle any relationship they once had, but is trying learn just what Ulysses does remember of the events of their last night together as a married couple. These events left her with deep emotional scars.
Playwright Sharr White has written a tight little tale. It starts as a sort of caustic comedy, especially when Ulysses talks about buying his meat at a dollar store, and then slowly turns into something darker as the mystery of what happened to cause the end of Emma and Ulysses’s marriage is eventually revealed.
Through all, there is the inexorable truth that one cannot simply escape from or erase the past no matter how one may try. What also makes the story so interesting are the characters she’s created and how they slowly reveal themselves over the course of the play, causing the audience’s sympathy toward each to change with every new revelation.
Mullally and Offerman play off each other perfectly. Offerman’s Ulysses is the more interesting character of the two, originally coming across as some sort of aging mountain man who hasn’t written anything in about a decade and is living off his now meager royalties from his long gone better days.
Ulysses bears his problems stoically, such as the fact that he’s suffering from emphysema to the point where he has to carry around an oxygen tank. He asks neither for understanding nor sympathy. He can become quite introspective when the circumstances warrant, such as when he explains his reasons for giving up drinking.
Mullally has the harder job of it. The script requires Emma to be more tightly coiled and restrained, at least in the beginning. Initially she seems to be at fault for their breakup, a pattern she’s repeated by leaving her latest husband just before she set out for Ulysses’s trailer.
She’s also burdened with long-held feelings of guilt, anger, and shame. She would have taken these emotions to her grave until the actions of her son force her to find the answers she’s been both seeking and running from for the past two decades.
Bart DeLorenzo’s direction is nicely focused; his efforts help create a believable feeling of animosity between the characters, which is both amusing and interesting. Thus the story unfolds naturally, and the effective use of blackouts helps illustrate the passage of time.
Thomas A. Walsh’s set of Ulysses’s disaster of a trailer is wonderful to behold. Ann Closs-Farley’s costumes, or lack of them in the case of Ulysses, are very good, as is the lighting work by Michael Gend.
Offering an intimate look at two people at completely different points in their lives, coming together over the one thing that still connects them, Annapurna wonderfully showcases the acting talents of Mullally and Offerman. It also shows how certain things that happened long ago can never simply fade away.
The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit Telecharge.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Closes: June 1
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.