Indignant rear end flashes, tender haircuts, discussions about giving up on or realizing authorial dreams, and reminiscences over young love turned sour mark Jobsite Theater's powerful, piercing production of Annapurna, Sharr White's dramedy exploring an estranged couple's demons as they await a special guest's arrival.
When Emma arrives at Ulysses's trailer home after leaving him 20 years ago, she finds him wearing nothing but an oxygen tank and a ratty apron and yelling at an amiable neighbor's dog while expired sausage fries on the stove. It's obvious in how quick she is to snap at him for his ramshackle living state and ungratefulness at her attempts to be helpful that she sees her ex-husband as an image short of the "Superman" she claims their guest expects him to be. Their grown son Sam yearns to "meet" Ulysses as if he never knew him, instead imagining the man as a literary idol thriving on a treasure trove of royalties while hating Emma for keeping him away from his father.
Emma and Ulysses skirt around discussing in piecemeal why she and Sam disappeared. Ulysses claims he can't recall what made them abandon him in the middle of the night, which he alleges Emma has a penchant for doing. He only remembers the bloody scratches on his neck and a random household object he thought he used to fight off a burglar. Emma drops hints such as how unhappy their marriage was because Ulysses drank and how she hid the letters he'd been writing in a span of 15 to 20 years to Sam. The act was one of defiance against her ex-husband and motherly protection misconstrued by her son as "ruining his life."
So much time has passed since the couple last saw each other that they've lived other lives. Earlier into the play, Emma reveals she remarried but, in her pursuit of Ulysses, left her second spouse Peter under suspicious terms evidenced by the bruises she chooses to show while wearing a sleeveless, backless sundress. Ulysses confirms he's dying from late-stage COPD after smoking a handful of cigarettes at a time for years, which fuels Sam's desperation to see him. In between putting together a detective story of sorts about the night that tore their family apart, the audience laughs and sighs at the couple's shared sentiments and funny foibles. They excavate humor -- Emma more reluctantly -- out of Peter's failure to earn tenure at the community college he taught at and his squandering finances into a dry cleaning business "popped" by its rival Bubble Boy. On the other side of the tonal spectrum, Ulysses falsely accuses her of slipping sleeping pills into the sandwich she makes for him after she explains the reasons why she hid the letters and wants to compile them into a book. She seems callous for hoping to capitalize on his private written disclosures, only for her to later admit that she gave up on her editing endeavors before meeting Peter, implying that she did so for Ulysses and that part of her remains with him.
Bond and Potenza make us love and hate their characters for the whole, yet damaged individuals they are just as much as Emma and Ulysses loathe and can't let go of each other. Ulysses has written his epic poem -- titled the same as the play itself -- likening Emma to a mountain summit so beautiful it ruins a climber's expedition. She also confesses that leaving didn't mean she stopped having some kind of connection to him. Even the set construction visually epitomizes their relationship. The whole play takes place in a bisected trailer home that fills the entire stage and encloses what little space the actors have to move around, while the purple mountain majestic background seen through the small windows and screen door suggest openness and lives they've carried out on their own. The trailer's claustrophobic tightness adds tension to the ex-spousal reunion unfolding before our eyes. Kudos to scenic and lighting designer Brian Smallheer for making the most out of the stage space and setting such an appropriately discomforting mood.
Sharr White's Annapurna sweeps you up and spits you out of an emotional hurricane, and Jobsite's rendition has audience members wiping tears from their eyes and standing in ovation. Amidst ingenious performances, direction, and design, the cast and crew show how much they loved and wanted to bring White's play to life and challenge just how tight are the ties that bind two people together.