In a beaten down trailer located in the "ass crack of the Rockies," Ulysses and Emma are having a reunion. Two decades ago, a once-hot love imploded, with Emma leaving home in the middle of the night with their son in tow.
The events of that night are at the core of Annapurna, Sharr White's intriguing examination of the persistence of love that has received a gorgeous production at the Jungle Theater, led by the absorbing performances of Terry Hempleman and Angela Timberman.
Sharp lines are drawn in the opening seconds. Emma has arrived unannounced at Ulysses' home. He's making breakfast — wearing only an apron.
It doesn't take long for the initial shock to fade and for the two to slip back into familiar roles. Ulysses is a wild Western poet whose hard life has finally caught up to him. He's on his last legs, wearing an oxygen tank to help his breathing and sporting a bandage on his chest where they cut out part of his lungs.
Emma's scars are mostly on the inside, though the fresh bruises on her body show that her arrival is about more than a need to meet her ex-husband before he shuffles off. There's a third, unseen, character — their son. He is on his way to meet his father for the first time since that night 20 years before when... something happened.
Ulysses can't remember that night, and Emma doesn't want to talk about it. That mystery gives the pair's extended conversation some shape and bite. White's goal, however, is to examine two people who were absolutely right — and absolutely wrong — for each other.
We see all of the phases, shapes, and sides of their relationship. There is anger and humor. Tension and tenderness. Rage and love.
The sentimental heart would be easy to overplay, but Hempleman and Timberman maintain restraint, not shying away from the flaws of their characters. That may be easier for Hempleman. Ulysses has such an outsized personality that his flaws are self-evident. But Emma is loaded with secrets, and Timberman plays her cards closer to the vest.
What really makes Annapurna work is that the two actors are absolutely convincing as a couple. There is an unspoken connection that comes in the twinkle of an eye or in the way Emma evokes a love so strong that saying Ulysses' name made her "tongue hurt."
Credit director Joel Sass for bringing together two actors with such easy chemistry — and giving them the emotional space to explore their characters. Sass also gives them a beautifully decrepit playground for their story to unfold. A full-sized trailer is recreated on stage, then packed with the debris from Ulysses' life.
September marks the start of a new theater season in the Twin Cities. With Annapurna, the Jungle reminds us why this little theater in Lyn-Lake is always at the summit.
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