AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Sharr White
Directed by Loretta Greco
Presented by & at Magic Theatre
Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco / (415) 441-8822

Reviewed by Judy Richter

It has been 20 years since she left her husband, taking their 5-year-old son with her and not revealing her whereabouts. Now she has traced him to a dilapidated, messy mobile home in the remote mountain town of Paonia in western Colorado. So begins "Annapurna" by Sharr White, being given its world premiere by San Francisco's Magic Theatre.

Ulysses (Rod Gnapp) is not only surprised but also suspicious, angry and less than hospitable when Emma (Denise Cormier) shows up on his doorstep with several pieces of luggage (or is it baggage?). He has numerous questions such as where she has been and what she has been doing for the past 20 years, how their son, Sam, is faring and -- most of all -- why she left and now why she's back. All of those questions and more are answered during the course of the 90-minute, one-act play.

Now in their mid-50s, Emma is fleeing a failed marriage, and Ulysses, a recovering alcoholic and once prolific poet, is suffering from failing health because of emphysema and lung cancer. And despite all the bitterness and anger they have, there still are some positive feelings, perhaps love, between them.

Gnapp, a longtime Bay Area favorite, is marvelous as Ulysses sorts through all his feelings and questions, especially as he learns how his heavy drinking led to Emma's departure. For her part, newcomer Cormier has good chemistry with Gnapp's Ulysses as her Emma processes his situation and gradually answers his questions. My only concern is that she seems a too young for the role.

Artistic director Loretta Greco has skillfully guided the actors through their characters' emotional journey and White's intriguing script. He calls for several blackouts during the first section of the play but wisely retreats from that technique as the play continues. There also are several times when one character refuses to answer a question at first but later relents and provides the information.

Andrew Boyce has appropriately littered the set with all sorts of junk as well as running water, while Christopher Akerlind's lighting helps to identify the approximate time of day. Jake Rodriguez's sound design is noteworthy for the barking of Ulysses' unseen dog, but it ceases as Emma and Ulysses continue their dialogue. The costumes are by Alex Jaeger.

"Annapurna" was commissioned by South Coast Repertory and was part of that company's Pacific Playwrights Festival in May. It's a fascinating, engrossing work, one that no doubt will be seen elsewhere -- and deservedly so. Among the questions that audiences might ponder is what would have happened if the couple's son, now 25, had shown up. Now that would be a whole new play.

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