NEW YORK (AP) — Some of the many ways people can destroy their own happiness are on full, tragic display in Sharr White's imaginative play "Annapurna."
Real-life husband and wife Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally play a divorced couple with a big mystery in their past, in an intimate, convincingly natural production, directed by Bart DeLorenzo, that opened Monday night off-Broadway at The New Group.
In a comically shocking introduction to Offerman's character, Ulysses, his estranged, urbane ex-wife Emma bursts into his squalid trailer to find him clad only in a loincloth-like apron and an oxygen backpack. From this overly quirky reunion, White, ("The Other Place"), builds the rest of his story with care. DeLorenzo's sure touch lets the focus linger on more somber moments while capturing the humor and irony of others
Ulysses and Emma move warily into genuinely poignant discussions about their failed relationship, their son Sam, and some of their other life choices. Underlying their realistic dialogue, White includes some slightly heavy-handed suspense about the mystery of the last night they saw each other 20 years earlier, when Emma took 5-year-old Sam away and permanently severed all communication with Ulysses.
Offerman, probably best-known for TV's "Parks and Recreation," is impressive as a broken man making the sardonic best of the bottom of his self-created downward trajectory. He's eminently sympathetic as blustery Ulysses, a recovering blackout alcoholic, one-time English professor and once-successful cowboy-poet.
Now terminally ill, Ulysses lives in self-imposed exile and squalor in a Colorado mountain trailer park, which he sarcastically calls "the ugliest, saddest accidental nudist colony you ever saw."
Emmy Award-winner Mullally is understated, taut and brisk as Emma tries to comprehend the newly-discovered wreckage of her ex-husband's life while quietly focused on a mission of her own. Throughout her subtle performance, Mullally generates the feeling that Emma is still fond of her unfortunate ex, even though she's only cleaning up his appearance for the imminent arrival of Sam.
Thomas A. Walsh's grimy, decrepit trailer interior is so disgusting and successfully claustrophobic that you can imagine the fleas hopping onto the audience. Looming above is a majestic snow-covered mountain, a reminder of the heights of success from which Ulysses has fallen.
Adding to the realism, DeLorenzo has Mullally bustling about cleaning filthy surfaces, throwing out decayed food, and actually tidying up the mess. If only life could be tidied up this neatly, too.