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Sharr White’s “Annapurna” Packs a Punch with Passion, Compassion, and Laughter

The Honest Pint Theatre Company and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre production of "Annapurna," directed by Dana Marks, stars David Henderson and Susannah Hough (photo by Alex Maness)

The Honest Pint Theatre Company and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre production of “Annapurna,” directed by Dana Marks, stars David Henderson and Susannah Hough (photo by Alex Maness)

Honest Pint Theatre Company first drew our attention two years ago with the explosive presentation of A Steady Rain by Keith Huff, and wowed us a second time with The Sum of Us by David Stevens. Its current production of Sharr White’s 2011 two-character play, Annapurna, co-produced with and performed at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, stars Honest Pint founder and artistic director David Henderson, who ascends the stage, displaying his considerable strength and talent. This time, he is accompanied by Susannah Hough, who matches his ability and power masterfully. Director Dana Marks is to be applauded for this incredible pair of performances.

Annapurna, which is one of the 30 highest mountains in the world, provides an apt metaphor for this story — it is the location of more than 76 deaths of attempted climbers, and has the highest death-to-summit ratio among the group of mountains called the ” Eight-Thousanders“, because they are all more than eight thousand meters (26,246 or more feet) above sea level. The mountain takes its name from the Sanskrit name for the Hindu goddess of the harvest; Annapurna literally means “the giver of food and nourishment.”

The story that the two hander Annapurna tells is a long, rough climb, fraught with dangers and filled with tension and release, and thereby is thoroughly entertaining. This play is, perhaps, an excellent example of what the business calls “an actor’s play,” There may be some flaws in the construction of the tale, but the net result is entirely performance oriented, and these actors allow us to see into the humanity of people with whom we might otherwise not spend much time.

Ulysses is a reclusive poet, living in the wilds of a mountain range. His ex-wife, Emma, drops in unannounced after they have been apart for 20 years. Emma brings news that profoundly affects Ulysses, as well as obvious bruises that indicate the tensions to come.

When she arrives, he is virtually naked, clad only in an apron and an oxygen tank, so the audience can readily see that there will be hilarious relief as their saga unfolds. A revelation of character and strength continues the action.

David Henderson, as Ulysses, is marvelously gross, in appearance and manner, from beginning to end, although he does add some real clothing before too long. He is grumpy, self-absorbed, loud, coarse, and callous, all with a comedic timing that is charming and refreshing, even if repulsive.

When Henderson drops into serious and tender moments, they are as genuine as his previous sanguinity. At one deeply intense moment, he blasts out “I don’t know. I don’t know!” with such force that it commands silence for an echo.

Susannah Hough, embodying Emma, has a remarkable ability to do business while delivering lines. She prepares a sandwich, getting the bread, opening and closing the package, peeling and slicing an avocado, slicing an onion, and squirting mustard on the other slice of bread, all the while engaging in emotional repartee. Her scaling of emotional mountains and valleys is extensive, and she fills the stage with her presence whenever she is in the tiny trailer in which the narrative unfolds.

Director Dana Marks elicits broad tension and passion from these actors, with a sharp eye for detail, such as assuring Henderson’s modesty as he parades around three-quarters nude, and Henderson handles the breathing apparatus that is attached to him like a baby in a backpack. Meanwhillew, Susannah Hough is constantly busy at some housekeeping chore or other business, including carefully removing a cache of cash from her bag, and killing ants.

Designer Miyuki Su’s mobile-home set is a beautiful mess, with papers scattered, books hanging around open and closed, stuff here and stuff there, clothes all over the place and an overflowing trash bin, replete with a broken-down sofa and duct tape-patched leather (or Naugahyde?) arm chair. It easily represents a very depressed mind.

This 90-minute seriocomic drama is thorough entertainment, front to back. It carries a punch with passion, compassion, and laughter. This a powerful cap to the area’s summer-theater season.

SECOND OPINION: Aug. 22nd Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7559″>http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7559; Aug. 19th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/annapurna/Event?oid=4626875; and Aug. 19th Raleigh, NC Triangle on Stage interview with David Henderson and Susannah Hough, conducted by Alex Matsuo: https://www.spreaker.com/user/triangleonstage/honest-pint-theatres-annapurna. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Aug. 20th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell and the Aug. 23rd review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/08/in-annapurna-david-henderson-and-susannah-hough-plunge-into-an-emotional-whirlpool/ and https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/08/annapurna-is-a-story-of-human-redemption-and-forgiveness-its-a-story-of-grace/, respectively)

The Honest Pint Theatre Company and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre present ANNAPURNA at 8 p.m. Aug. 22, 3 p.m. Aug. 23, 8 p.m. Aug. 28 and 29, 3 p.m. Aug. 30, 8 p.m. Sept. 4 and 5, and 3 p.m. Sept. 6 at NRACT, 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, NC 27615, in the Greystone Village Shopping Center.

TICKETS: $17 evenings and $15 matinees ($14 evenings and $12 matinees students and teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), except $10 First Sunday Matinee on Aug. 23rd.

BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, info@nract.org, or http://nract.org/tickets.

SHOW: http://nract.org/upcoming-productions/annapurna, http://www.honestpinttheatre.org/#!annapurna/cids, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1640535516213160/.

VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvcmL3aa21U.

CO-PRESENTER:

Honest Pint Theatre Company: http://www.honestpinttheatre.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/honestpinttheatrecompany. HPTC BLOG: http://www.honestpinttheatre.org/#!blog/cb1n.

CO-PRESENTER/VENUE:

North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.

MAP/DIRECTIONS: https://www.google.com/maps/.

OTHER LINKS:

Annapurna (2011 San Francisco, 2013 Los Angeles, and 2014 Off-Broadway play): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4757 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.sharrwhite.com/annapurna.html (Sharr White’s website), http://www.lortel.org/ and (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Sharr White (playwright): http://www.sharrwhite.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=493080 (Internet Broadway Database, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharr_White (Wikipedia).

Dana Marks (Durham, NC guest director and managing director of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern): http://littlegreenpig.com/members/ (Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern bio) and https://www.facebook.com/dana.marks.5 (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews