So, I’ve seen some highly touted, top-notch Broadway theater over the last few months, plus I’ll also be attending something Off-Broadway by the middle of December. I’ve made it apparent on the blog recently, that my August experience with “Hamilton” was exceptional, and my October one with “Therese Raquin” was quite fine. Of course, those two examples represent the hottest ticket in New York, plus Keira Knightley’s stage debut on the Great White Way. Each ticket cost me over one hundred dollars, and both theatres were populated with excited sellout crowds. Living relatively close to the Big Apple, I always have a healthy choice of some of the best stage performances the world has to offer. But what lies outside of that nearby Metropolis? What do the local suburbs have to offer–whether professional, semi-professional, or mostly amateur community theatre. Every now and then, I like to give one of those a shot. And my recent experiment was via the Radburn Players of Fair Lawn in New Jersey, and their production of Sharr White’s “Annapurna”.
“Annapurna” is a one-set, 90-minute play, with no intermission and only two characters. Ulysses is a middle-aged former writer, suffering from a life threatening illness, and Emma is his estranged ex-wife, who comes to care for Ulysses after fleeing her second husband. Ulysses currently resides in a filthy trailer home, located amidst the Colorado mountains. He apparently fully expects to die soon, from the serious lung disease that ails him, and it’s obvious that his existence is meager. Emma and Ulysses share a now-grown child, that Ulysses hasn’t seen in years. And while it’s obvious that Emma feels some real compassion and responsibility for Ulysses, it is also made clear that she left him mostly due to his severe abuse of alcohol. Plus, there is an untapped “secret” that led to the dissolution of their marriage, as well. Emma is aware of some of the details, while Ulysses claims that an alcoholic blackout has blocked it from his recollection. They soon discover some new things about each other, and the attempt is made to jar Ulysses faulty memory.
There were quite a few things I enjoyed during the Radburn Players’ presentation of “Annapurna”. Stuart Aion as Ulysses showed a solid amount of command, that was bolstered by a strong physical performance. When we first see him, Mr. Aion is clad in his underwear, with a surgically taped-up chest, and a breathing device strapped to his back. I appreciated Stuart’s slow progression towards insightful character reveals. He never allows himself to become too flamboyant, which allows the play’s finale to exhibit an earned power. Erica Kresch brings a believable world-weariness to her role as Emma. She counters a lot of what the Ulysses character presents her with, while also complimenting the performance of Mr. Aion. Ms. Kresch has the decidedly more difficult job as an actor here. She handles herself admirably, and the two performers make a believable divorced couple. Bravo to both. And the direction of Amy Sellars is direct, simple, and mostly unobtrusive. It was the way to go.
Were there things that I didn’t admire during this production of “Annapurna”? Sure. But I see no reason to harp on them here. How fair would it be for me to judge this on the same scale as “Hamilton” or “Therese Raquin”? “Annapurna”, I’m certain, had a very limited budget–but the trailer set is still pretty good. The performance space is located within a building called the Radburn Association Grange Hall, and the stage is, quite literally, a big hole in the wall. There’s about a hundred folding chairs set up for the audience, and attendance seemed healthy on the Friday night I was there. By this point, I usually give a rating on a 1-10 scale that represents my feelings concerning the quality of the show. But I’m not going to do that here–a blog first. A number grade isn’t necessary in this case, but I will tell you that the 15 dollars I spent to experience “Annapurna” was well worth it. It was an overall enjoyable evening. Support your local theaters folks! There could be some magic being sprinkled into your neighborhood, right down the street from your home. Peruse community theater websites, grab a partner if you must, and give some hard-working area actors a chance. This production of “Annapurna” went dark on November 21st, but there will be something new come spring. Why not give it a try?