Annapurna at The Jungle Theater

Angele Timberman and Terry Hempleman in Annapurna. Photo by Dan Norman

Angele Timberman and Terry Hempleman in Annapurna. Photo by Dan Norman

We are introduced to Ulysses, the hermitous center of Sharr White’s marital dramedy Annapurna (The Jungle Theater, through October 18) as he is frying rotten sausage in the dilapidated confines of his ramshackle trailer. He is clothed in nothing but a shabby apron and has an oxygen tank hanging from a makeshift backpack. The image is both funny and endearing, and provides a microcosm of the show’s tone, which balances farcical comedy and dark, family drama.

That Emma does not flinch upon seeing Ulysses in this state despite her twenty year absence hints to the couple’s familiarity with one another – a familiarity that could have only resulted from deeply felt shared history. Ulysses and Emma quickly fall into a familiar rhythm of verbal jabs and veiled pleasantries. Emma has just fled from her comfortable second marriage to seek out Ulysses, for reasons neither of them is able to put into words. Her arrival has allowed him to ask questions that have gnawed at him (and both of them) for all twenty of those years – namely, why did she run away? As neither is courageous enough to really broach the topic, the two dance around each other, looking to extract strings of truth. Over the course of a single, sweltering evening, the friction between the two reveals long-held secrets and doubts.

Much of the show’s strength comes from White’s writing, which beautifully captures the complexities of attraction and disappointment. It never feels overwrought. The play uses humor in a human way.

This humor is delivered with sincerity by co-stars Terry Hempleman and Angela Timberman, who share a genuine chemistry. Their performances are compelling and, despite the severity of the subject matter, never rely on fake histrionics or shock tactics. Bravo to director Joel Sass, a Jungle regular, for recognizing this show works best when it downplays the melodrama of its plot. Sass smartly allows White’s words to operate without added punctuation, making the play more moving and believable. Only in rare moments does he interject music, which serves to accentuate the show’s most poignant moments.

Sass is also credited with the show’s set design, which is a carefully crafted depiction of poverty and eccentricity. Even before anyone speaks, we are able to glean insight into Ulysses’ cluttered mind. The humble setting is as unassuming as its earnest, but troubled characters.

All of these elements – the writing, direction, performances, and set – work together to create a lived-in quality that is central to the play. The play’s action to unfolds organically without contrivance. For example, while death is present in every scene (because of Ulysses’s illness) this theme is never exploited.

In short, the play, and the Jungle’s production, provides an engrossing look into the motivations of normal folk pushed to the edge by their flaws. Despite the quirks of the leads, these are irresistibly empathetic figures. The show builds sympathy in the midst of dysfunction. If only there were more works like it. Make a point to see this oft funny, very affecting show.

David and Chelsea Berglund also review movies, at their site Movie Matrimony.


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