If acting is about playing, then it is fun to have a great playground.
Joel Sass certainly offers that to Terry Hempleman and Angela Timberman in the Jungle Theater’s Annapurna. Sass, the director and designer, has crafted a full-scale, broken-down trailer on the Jungle’s stage. Within, Hempleman and Timberman’s characters play out a reunion after a two-decade estrangement.
“I’ve never been on a set like this. It has a no exit quality to it. It is overwhelming a bit, but also very helpful — the claustrophobic feel of it, the smallness of it. We don’t have this huge space to work in,” Timberman says.
The detailed set — right down to scraps of poetry written by Hempleman's character, Ulysses — takes the already intimate setting of the Jungle and focuses it into a much smaller area.
“The more confined the space, the more precisely people are watching. Every little thing means more,” Sass says.
Sharr White, Annapurna’s playwright, has built a quick reputation for producing engrossing plays that take viewers on unexpected journeys. One of his other plays, The Other Place, had a tremendous production earlier this year at Park Square Theatre.
“I kind of had an eye on [Annapurna]. I read it about it in New York and ran down to the drama book store, bought it, and read it. The dialogue is fantastic. There are always things that attract you to certain plays, and good dialogue is one of them,” Sass says. “When your job is reading plays, it becomes wearing to to read so many plays where nothing happens. This is a complicated chemical reaction between two people who bond together to make a new element. The great messy truth about any marriage or long-term relationship is that it has a lot of facets to it. He puts it all in a tin can and lets it heat up.”
Whatever the flaws the characters may have, they are like people we all know. “The great white lie we tell ourselves is that we don’t know any people like this,” Sass says.
Sass auditioned performers from around the Twin Cities to find a well-matched pair. The actors were also impressed with White's work.
“I was just struck by how rich it was. It is really funny in places and really relatable in places. It spoke to me on levels about marriage and relationships and being a mom and love,” says Timberman, who plays Emma. "One moment in your life can change everything. In these two stories, there is one instant that changed their relationship forever. If something drastic happens, everything you thought was your reality is no longer your reality."
Hempleman relishes the chance to play with just a single scene partner. “When you have a two-person play, you get a little more like a novel. This is what you love as an actor, a part you can really sink your teeth into,” he says.
In White's play, Ulysses and Emma have been estranged for decades. They meet again, finally, in Uylsses’ broken-down trailer, perched in the Colorado Rockies. Ulysses lives far off the grid, writing poetry and living his life. (If you are curious, the play's title refers to both a Himalayan Mountain and a Hindu goddess of nourishment and food.)
"All of the great hermits go off into the desert to purge and find great knowledge,” Sass says. “In an environment like this, there is no place to hide. It is too hot outside, and town is an hour drive away. It is like the boxing ring. Or the prison cell. Or the deep-diving cave.”
For all three, the show promises a rare chance for an intimate evening for the characters and the audience.
“I sort of imagined it could be something in this theater. We could weave our little web of Jungle magic,” Hempleman says.
IF YOU GO:
Friday through October 18
The Jungle Theater
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612-822-7063 or visit online.