It’s rare that Sharon Graci and Rodney Lee Rogers, the married co-founders of PURE Theatre, perform on stage together. It’s even rarer that they are the only two people on stage, playing characters who were once married and haven’t seen each other in 20 years.
That’s just one of the reasons to see Annapurna, PURE’s current Summer Slam production, which centers on the estranged couple Emma and Ulysses. After a divorce and 20 years without any contact, Emma finds Ulysses in a trailer in the shadow of a mountain in rural Colorado. Ulysses is dying of emphysema and lung cancer, though he can still take decent care of himself. Emma shows up without any warning, having left her current husband, and she and Ulysses, who still love each other, gradually rehash their painful past.
Unsurprisingly, Graci and Rogers have great chemistry and give exceptional performances as people who, despite long years apart, still know each other inside and out. Graci’s Emma is tough, yet maternal and caring, while Rogers’ Ulysses is obviously a man who’s been through the ringer and come out deciding that it’s better to have nothing to lose — hence the dingy trailer, no job, and refusal of cancer treatment. Annapurna also gives Rogers and Graci the opportunity to show off their outstanding acting chops, especially during the play’s tense climax.
Set designer Allen Lyndrup has done an incredible job creating the inside of Ulysses’ trailer. Run-down and dilapidated, the trailer’s walls and ceiling are covered with scribbled-on pieces of paper — Ulysses was an English professor and poet before everything went to hell — that give an impression not of madness, but of sad, quiet desperation. There’s a huge image of a mountain off to the side, representing the mountain that Ulysses lives below, and that in combination with the warm lighting does manage to give the impression that Graci and Rogers are in the big, lonely environs of the West.
The only confusing element came right after Emma arrived, in the first 15 minutes or so of the play. Several times the stage lighting dimmed, apparently to show the passage of time, yet when the action resumed, it seemed that hardly any time had passed at all. The technique seems either unnecessary, or too heavily symbolic.
And this review wouldn’t be complete without recognition of the sole canine member of the cast, Graci and Rogers’ dog Booth, who showed preternatural restraint by staying in his spot behind Ulysses’ trailer without making so much as a yip throughout the entire 90 minutes of the play. That dog might just be made for show biz.