Before contemplating a wedding, young couples should consider a sensible warm-up: say, hiking the Appalachian Trail. Marriage is a very long walk—that is, when it's done correctly. A few weeks in many weathers on a road to nowhere could give a lot of dyads important data on their long-term prospects.
That conclusion comes after viewing Sharr White's bracing tragicomedy, Annapurna. Two literary types—Ulysses, a larger-than-life cowboy of a poet, and his ex-editor and ex-wife, Emma—come to a long-delayed reckoning about their relationship, some 20 years after she left him without warning. It takes place in an unlikely venue: a run-down single-wide trailer in the sticks outside of Paonia, Colorado. There, at the base of scenic Mt. Gunnison, Ulysses has slowly gone to seed, career-wise and physically, as witnessed by his constant medical albatross: an oxygen tank he carries on his back.
But, given these particular protagonists, such an assessment may be right on time. "I've got a little theory that says people don't know what they are until long afterwards," Ulysses says. When Emma presses him on what that made him, two decades earlier, Ulysses answers that he was some kind of monster, "if the punishment befits the crime."
That thought is central in White's script and this nuanced Honest Pint Theatre production. Under Dana Marks' discerning direction, David Henderson is cantankerous as a Ulysses who still blames Emma more for leaving him in the dark than simply for leaving him. But elsewhere, he owns up to the sins that make his decrepit trailer "a fitting purgatory" in which he's still doing time years later: "Say hi to you one time—bang—we're on a date. Finally admit I'm fond of you—bang—we're in a church. Bad husband to you for ten years?—Bang, you up and leave me."
In a finely calibrated emotional performance, Susannah Hough probes the psyche of a woman who is uncertain why she's re-litigating a marriage two decades in the grave. Reflecting on their supposedly big, happy family, Emma replies, "We were never big. And we were never happy." She has no answer, though, when Ulysses asks, "Yeah? Then what're you doin' here?" Later, she does poke through Ulysses' rosier memories. When he observes, "We were happy! Daily!" Emma simply asks, "So why'd you drink?"
Mountains, in designer Miyuki Su's whirling sky above the Colorado Rockies as well as the Nepalese range in the title, form the predominant metaphor in White's cautionary meditation on long-term loves. Really getting to know someone involves traversing their terrains, microclimates, sudden cliffs and crevasses and then living to tell the tale. All take considerable time, effort, skill and risk, since there's little in the way of maps to guide you. If you're not adequately prepared, you really shouldn't take the trip.
Just as Annapurna marked its first climbers for life, the characters in this study bear the marks—literally, in some cases—of their long associations. As each gains new and sometimes painful information about the other's emotional topography, they discover important facets in themselves, too. Not the worst of outcomes, particularly after this interpersonal avalanche. Recommended.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Nights we say whee"