The more you think about Sharr White's "Annapurna," the more holes open up in the script. But at the time, as you watch the show unfold in front of you, you cannot help but be swept along by the strong sensual attraction between the two characters, as well as the slow pulling back of a disquieting curtain of mystery.
Rod Gnapp plays Ulysses, the anti-hero, a role that Gnapp seems to embrace show after show. Here he is the dissolute poet who has gotten sober after a rocky ten year marriage to Emma (Denise Cormier). We find out that she has taken their then-five year old son Sam and walked out on Ulysses after a particularly stormy night of drinking. Ulysses has eventually disappeared into the Rockies, to live in a squalid trailer community of CDS's (Can't Do Shits).
"Holy crap," says Ulysses, standing practically naked in his kitchen except for a loin cloth and a backpack that holds his oxygen tank.
"I know," says Emma, and the story begins.
Nobody can remember what happened on the night of their final breakup. Ulysses was too drunk, Emma was at the store and Sam, who may have borne the brunt of Ulysses's drunken rage, was only five at the time and cannot remember either.
We never see Sam on stage, but we come to learn he has a hearing disability. We also learn he is now in his twenties and is determined to come find his father.
Not knowing what happened to his wife and child after they disappeared that night has haunted Ulysses. Not understanding how Ulysses could have done whatever he did, has consumed Emma. In addition, Ulysses appears to be dying from emphysema and lung cancer, and Sam may arrive at any moment. There appears to be only one key that can unlock the box in which both Emma and Ulysses have found themselves: his poetry.
Yes, that's right, poetry, and here is where the story begins to ring false. Emma seems to love Ulysses's poems at least as much as she loves him. When he speaks Emma shies away. But when he recites his poetry she reverts to the fawning young student she was when they met. Emma has been around the block since then so this shedding of one persona for another seems unnatural, in the same hard-to-believe way that Ulysses and his dazzling wit seem unfazed by his mortal illness, except for an occasional nip on his inhaler.
But Annapurna grabs you. You can't take your eyes off the two ex-lovers, continually returning to take the measure of each other. In the end, with all its mystery, we are watching the best kind of love story: hot, doomed and captivating.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ !
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards division awards "Annapurna" Three Stars with an Exclamation Point! Loretta Greco's direction gives the story pacing, which isn't easy to do with only two actors and a thickly dramatic script. Gnapp and Cormier are both utterly believable, even when saddled with the rather hackneyed 'Ivy League Girl' and 'Cowboy Poet' roles. The exclamation point is a thank you to Andrew Boyce for his intriguing (but hard to clean up) set and to Jake Rodriguez for music that keeps us on edge. This is a World Premiere. The show will only get better.
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco
Through December 4