Los Angeles Theater Review: ANNAPURNA (Odyssey)

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by Tom Chaits on April 26, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


In mountaineering lingo, “committing” refers to forcing yourself into a place of no return leaving nowhere to go but forward; and so it is with life, loss and love in Sharr White’s (The Other Place*) two-hander, Annapurna, making its Los Angeles premiere courtesy of the Odyssey Theatre. A drama with an ample dose of comic relief, the 90 minute intermission-free outing begs the question, “Is there any recovery when life intervenes and true love fails?”

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of ANNAPURNA at Odyssey Theatre

Ulysses (Nick Offerman – Parks and Recreation) is a terminally ill recovering addict and one time poet of note who has banished himself to a life of seclusion in a squalid trailer at the foot of Mount Gunnison in the Colorado Rockies. One morning as he stands at the stove in all his unkempt splendor (wild hair and scraggly beard) adorned only in an apron, chest bandage and portable oxygen tank backpack he is caught off guard by the unannounced arrival of his baggage-toting (both physically and emotionally) estranged wife of 20 years, Emma (Megan Mullally – Will & Grace). The pair has not spoken for decades and when their now 25-year-old son decides to visit his father after he locates him on-line and discovers his rapidly approaching demise, Emma decides it’s best to make a preemptive strike and quash the demons that have haunted her and caused her to pack up and leave all those years ago. Let the “committing” begin.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of ANNAPURNA at Odyssey Theatre

Mr. White’s script is for the most part a revealing look into the complexities of relationships gone south and if and how the parties concerned can move on without closure. He has a knack for convincing conversation and his dialogue never seems forced. Unfortunately he introduces a “deep dark secret” into the works as a device to up the emotional ante. It seems a horrific event transpired on the night that Emma fled into the dark, an event that Ulysses has no recollection of either due to an alcoholic blackout or a psychological block.  Each time the event is referenced the viewer becomes increasingly uneasy causing their imaginations to run wild as they try to figure out what possibly could have happened. It causes quite a mental distraction and when we finally find out the truth it cannot possibly live up to the horrors we have been coerced into creating in our own heads. It would have been far more effective to ditch the device and to simply concentrate the emphasis on the real world dynamics of the relationship. Life is complicated enough – you don’t always need to throw in a tragedy for good measure.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of ANNAPURNA at Odyssey Theatre

Be that as it may, the script’s heavy-handed shortcomings do not derail the production. Under the astute, level-headed direction of Bart DeLorenzo, the “married-in-real-life” team of Offerman and Mullally is riveting to watch. He gets off to a bit of a bumpy start with an overtly Grizzly Adams approach to the role but once the growl and bluster is toned down, he settles in just fine. She layers her performance with so much subtext that it’s a revelation. Whether a result of their actual affection for each other or their interpretive abilities to make us think they have actual affection for each other, they are completely believable as a couple who once were and probably still are in love. There are moments of truth and tenderness so grounded that they transcend the written word.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of ANNAPURNA at Odyssey Theatre

The physical aspects of the show are all top-drawer. In plain view as you enter the theater, Thomas A. Walsh’s set sets the tone immediately. The cross section of a decrepit and disgustingly filthy trailer is so realistic you can almost smell the rot and feel the grime. Set against a backdrop of a snow covered peak, it offers the perfect contrast between pristine beauty and a life in decay. Prop master Katherine S. Hunt has her hands full keeping all the clutter together. The atmospheric lighting by Michael Gend suits the mood and action well.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of ANNAPURNA at Odyssey Theatre

It is a curse of the human condition that most people feel they need to make sense of life. Did we make the right choices? Did we do the right thing? If we could, would we do it differently? As we face the final curtain it would be nice to know the answers but that usually is not in the cards. Alas, life is messy and no one makes it out alive. Annapurna gives us the perfect opportunity to eavesdrop on a troubled couple who are simply searching for answers before the clock runs out.

Tom Chaits' Stage and Cinema LA review of ANNAPURNA at Odyssey Theatre

*Stage and Cinema’s reviews of The Other Place: Magic Theatre, SF and Broadway.

photos by Enci

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in West L.A.
scheduled to end on June 9, 2013
for tickets, call (310) 477-2055 or visit http://www.OdysseyTheatre.com

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