by Judith Jarosz · April 21, 2014
When I heard that two artists whose talent and comic timing I have admired were coming to Off Broadway, I was excited. Both Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman have gained fame in television roles. Mullally is best known as the acerbic Karen Walker on “Will & Grace,” a role which garnered her two Emmys and four SAG Awards, as well as five Golden Globe nominations, and Offerman as the dry, stoic, Ronald Ulysses Swanson on “Parks and Recreation.” They even made appearances on each others shows. Although not an avid TV patron, I have caught both of them on their respective shows in reruns, and like many, am delighted by their talent and comic timing. It’s been my experience that those that can tap in to the heart of comedy, are often just as deeply in touch with the tragic tones of life and art. Add to the mix that they each have extensive live theater credits and are married to each other in “real” life, and it would seem a possible dream scenario for them to appear together in a two person show.
Annapurna, by Sharr White is a tightly written, well balanced play with a beautiful balance of comedy and tragedy, which keeps propelling forward to a touching conclusion. At 90 minutes with no intermission, the time flies by, with no small credit going to the nuanced performances that both actors bring to their roles. Without revealing too much, the piece features a reunion of a married couple who haven’t seen each other in 20 years. Turns out Ulysses (Offerman) an ex-Cowboy/Professor of English/Poet currently living in a dilapidated trailer (in which the entire play takes place) in Paonia, Colorado “Otherwise known as the ass-crack of the Rockies,” had a bit of a raging drinking problem back in the day and can’t recall, or has blocked, certain memories pertaining to the breakup of their marriage. Meanwhile Emma, who took their five year old son Sammy with her when she left, has moved on to a new life and marriage, which doesn’t seem to be working out either, and after finding out that “Ully” is very ill, has decided to surprise him with a visit with some news about his son. The fact that he has no phone helps prompt the surprise aspect.
What we get here is an emotional dance filled with love, hate, tears and laughs, between two people who still have volcanic connections. The writing is great and never allows the action to stagnate for a moment as we zigzag through a roller coaster of sarcastic comments mixed with angst ridden pain. And yet somehow the whole thing is quietly touching at the same time, slowly unfolding like a dusty rose until some harsh facts about their life and their choices are revealed. It is so much fun to watch too really talented well trained pros be thrown a literary steak this juicy and watch them feast! Bart DeLorenzo directs with a sure hand, making us feel part of the action (right down to the smell of sausage which is actually cooking) but never intrusive. The set by Thomas A. Walsh feels realistic without being too claustrophobic. The costumes by Ann Closs-Farley and lighting by Michael Gend serve the piece well and I also really like the sound design by John Ballinger, which captures the realism and the humor of the piece. And what is Annapurna? A mountain located in Nepal, which is among the world’s most dangerous to climb. So ugly-beautiful…like life.