Debra Jo Rupp saves the day and the play!

As you have heard me say many many times, Rob Ruggiero is a most brilliant director of musicals; now as Artistic Director of Theater Works in Hartford, he is presenting a rustic play, Annapurna, by Sharr White. Mr. White, if nothing else, is a playwright whose each work is written in completely different styles. The Other Place, which I saw first in a tiny off Broadway Theater, then on Broadway, is a psycho drama, which, at first appeared interesting, but at second look, seemed improbable. (It won kudos at Theater Works last season.) I enjoyed his much more traditional The Snow Geese, which echoed a Chekhovian theme.

Here, Annapurna, is miles from those two plays. In fact, it takes place in Colorado in a disgusting mess of a trailer, where “Dirt is the only thing holding the place together.” That phrase comes from Ulysses, the owner, who is a wreck. When his former wife, Emma, walks in on him, unannounced, he is too naked, attached to an oxygen tank, unwashed and unkempt, bandaged from chest to sternum. Vasili Bogazianos, a soap opera star, makes a good effort to play this role of a man on death's door, but is all one note, loud and brusque. It is impossible to believe that this reformed alcoholic has been a published poet and teacher.

Emma, the superb Debra Jo Rupp, who works hard, here, cleaning and preparing food, arrives unannounced, red marks on her arms and neck and shiny suitcases in tow. She is returning after 20 years, when she left with her 5-year-old son, Sam. Her husband has no idea why they escaped in the night. He has been writing letters to his son ever since, sent to his mother-in-law, who died five years before. Emma has since remarried to Peter, a man who was a failed teacher but became a successful dry cleaner. Sam has just discovered the stash of dad's letters and is angry with his mother. Here again is another play about the power of letters. (Love Letters, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Intimate Apparel.) Seems to be a theme this year.

Ruggiero's direction is questionable. There are pauses during the one and half hours without intermission that are inexplicable in a play that is contrived. How does a woman who has lived a full life want to come back to a man who was a terrible abuser? Why doesn't she just tell her 25-year-old son the truth? She has run a business; why does she carry all this cash? Why should her present husband beat her?

Technically, the production is well detailed. Evan Adamson's set design is breathtaking with a view of bright shining snow-covered mountains outside of the awful trailer. The title is ironic, for Annapurna in NEPAL is where many hikers were lost in an avalanche last week. Annapurna at Theater Works will play through November 4.

This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio.

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