From the side-splittingly funny, fanny-exposing opening to the tear-jerking conclusion, NC Stage Company‘s production of Sharr White’s Annapurna is a tour de force on every level.
Charlie Flyn-McIver’s direction is spot on, and the play is set within the tiny, messy slum of a single-wide trailer. That set, by scenic designer Julie K. Ross and Catori Swan, is so brilliantly created that it looks like an actual trailer with a wall cut away.
Michael McCauley is, perhaps, one of the region’s finest dramatic actors, but this performance may well be the peak of his own personal mountain. That’s appropriate, since the play’s title alludes to the epic climb of an Andes peak of the same name. McCauley plays a man in decay, having spent the better part of two decades fading from his own greatness. This once great poet, aptly named Ulysses, is living off of ever-shrinking royalty checks from his long-forgotten work.
Callan White plays Ulysses’ estranged wife, Emma. She appears on his doorstep after having left in the middle of the night with their toddler son 20 years earlier. Emma is both Ulysses’ greatest inspiration and his undoing. White gives a stellar performance as a woman who wants to make some amends, but also wants to find some resolution to the past that has haunted her.
As Emma’s and Ulysses’ day together unfolds, truths are told and lost or forgotten fragments of a dysfunctional yet vital past come pouring out. They are both reminded of why they loved each other as well as why they also loathe each other. It is alternately hopeful and heart-wrenching.
There’s one big secret to be uncovered, and the show spends much of the time edging cautiously toward it. It is unavoidable, and when it comes, the moment is powerfully devastating.
In lesser hands, the balance of pathos and often painful humor would carry the intended impact. But everything about this show is so precise in its execution that it feels more like the audience is witnessing it than watching it. It’s unsettling at times to observe, sure, but these are raw human emotions bared by seasoned professionals at the height of their game.
Annapurna runs through Sunday, Feb. 22 with performances Wednesdays through Saturdays, at at 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays, at 2 p.m.. $14-$32.