What if you had experienced the defining moment of your life — but couldn't remember it?
Sharr White's remarkable two-person play, “Annapurna,” now at the Odyssey, deals with just that dilemma, as well as other imponderables such as the vagaries of love and the philosophical clarity of impending death.
From White's poignant script to Bart DeLorenzo's faultless direction to Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman's beautifully centered performances, “Annapurna” is a lovely theatrical construct from the ground up.
The production's slice-of-life specificity begins with Thomas A. Walsh's scenic design, a squalid trailer in the Colorado foothills bespeaking hopelessness in every filthy detail. The magnificent Rockies, looming just outside, stand in ironic counterpoint to this “purgatory,” a sort of sick animal’s burrow where once-celebrated poet Ulysses (Offerman), has come to die.
In the opening scene Ulysses, clad only in an apron and portable oxygen backpack, reacts incredulously to the arrival of his former wife, Emma (Mullally), who decamped with their then-5-year-old son 20 years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. It’s a comical setup that elicits well-deserved hoots — as indeed does much of White’s incisive script, which builds masterfully from hilarity to poignancy.
Once ensconced in her husband's trailer, the bustling Emma sets about cleaning up the mess. With no wasted motion or false “busy” work, Emma restores relative order to this hoarder's squat — just one example of the verisimilitude of Lorenzo’s staging.
Emma’s bustling industriousness covers a world of hurt, the cause of which will eventually become apparent. Mullally, most known for her comedic characters on “Will & Grace” and “Children's Hospital,” is superbly authentic and matter-of-fact.
But it is Offerman, a regular on “Parks and Recreation,” who ultimately shatters as a heroically sardonic former boozer in the final days of his life. Together the two parse the past, confronting a mysterious wrong that has condemned both to lives of loneliness and regret.
If White deals with that “reveal” somewhat reiteratively, it's little matter in this otherwise superb production. Offerman and Mullally are real-life husband and wife, comfortable in their own skins and with each other. Well-matched antagonists, Emma and the dying Ulysses are full of bitter regret — and the kind of gallows humor that derives from raw courage. We are privileged to have met them.
“Annapurna,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 9. $30. (310) 477-2055. www.odysseytheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
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