none too fragile’s ‘Annapurna’ offers epic love and loss in one act
By Bob Abelman
Homer’s 8th-century BCE poem, “The Odyssey,” is about the Greek hero Ulysses, who is presumed dead by his wife and son after he is sent on a 10-year journey after the decade-long Trojan War by the displeased sea-god Poseidon.
In Sharr White’s fractured, one-act treatment of this epic tale – which received its Off-Broadway premiere in 2014 – Ulysses has finally come home. And home is a dilapidated trailer squatting somewhere in an unattractive part of the West Elk Mountain range of Colorado.
The play is getting a beautifully performed but anemically designed production at none too fragile.
In “Annapurna,” the grizzled Ulysses (Jeffrey Grover) – a once-celebrated cowboy-poet, English professor and notorious drunk – is destitute, dying from emphysema and lung cancer, and unexpectedly visited by his ex-wife Emma (Derdriu Ring), who has remarried.
They haven’t seen each other in the 20 years since she fled with their 5-year-old. But now Emma has tracked down Ulysses to prepare him physically and emotionally for his estranged son’s arrival after the young man discovered a stockpile of hidden, unopened and unanswered letters from his father.
The play is a 90-minute confrontation between ex-spouses. But “Annapurna” is also a lyrical meditation on love and loss that centers on two decent but badly damaged people. And it unfolds in several distinctive movements that have their own rhythms.
The play starts with a comedic allegro vivace encounter between Ulysses and Emma upon her entrance. She arrives at the trailer with suitcase in hand, a body full of pronounced bruises and a disagreeable attitude at the ready. He greets her while frying sausage in nothing but a skimpy apron around his waist, a breathing apparatus strapped to his back and a perplexed expression on his face.
The play slows to an intimate and emotional andante, as the indelible impressions these two have left on one another are revealed and performed with great delicacy. And it ends in a moving adagio moment of revelation (for us as well as Ulysses, who has lost years of memory to alcoholic blackout) and resolution. There’s a metaphor to boot, in the form of Ulysses’ most recent poem, which is written on paper towel and tissues and likens his marriage to scaling Annapurna, one of the most dangerous and beautiful mountain ranges in the Himalayas.
Actually, the play is considerably less fluid and more predictable than just described. But under Sean Derry’s direction and with the talented Grover and Ring beautifully handing the very naturalistic dialogue the playwright provides, this production unfolds with remarkable grace and dexterity.
Grover, despite an accent that comes and goes of its own free will, makes us feel the struggle of every laborious breath he takes and see the poet’s sensitive soul beneath the rebel spirit, the dismissive demeanor and the bitter anger. Ring beautifully balances Emma’s rage, disappointment and overriding compassion.
The only thing that detracts from their fine performances is the astounding lack of attention to detail given to the scenic design by Derry and Marina Lauff.
Claims of blistering midday heat and impressive vistas are undermined by nothing but black curtains outside the windows and open door. And Emma’s dismay over the trailer’s sordidness – the piles of decaying garbage, the ants, the cockroaches and the remnant dog feces – are contradicted by a pristine interior with nothing but a small stack of books on a table and a few dishes in the sink to represent squalor.
Some of the evening’s best acting comes from Ring repeatedly cleaning areas that are spotless while marveling at the mess and from Glover not flinching at the absurdity of this while sucking deeply from his oxygen tank. Both are displays heroism that would have made Homer proud. CV
WHERE: none too fragile, 1835 Merriman Rd., Akron
WHEN: Through Nov. 19
TICKETS & INFO: $20, visit nonetoofragile.com
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on Nov. 5, 2016.
Lead image: Derdriu Ring and Jeffrey Grover Photo | Brian Kenneth Armour