By George Basler
American playwright Sharr White is known for weaving dark humor into painfully sad situations. That’s certainly the case with Annapurna, which had successful runs in Los Angeles and Off Broadway in New York a few years ago.
The play “covers a lot of bases: love, loss, regret, addiction and forgiveness. And it’s funny like life is funny even when it’s sad,” said Tim Gleason, artistic director of Binghamton’s KNOW Theatre, where the 90-minute play will open Friday (April 7) for a three-weekend run.
Gleason is co-starring in the two-character play with Dori May Ganisin, who has acted in a number of productions across the region, notably at KNOW and at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene.
Gleason said one reason he picked Annapurna to perform was to lure Ganisin back to KNOW to act with him. “I think she’s the best actor in the region whatever the gender,” he noted. The two have previously acted together in Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Death and the Maiden. Ganisin also gave a striking performance as Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey into Night at KNOW.
“I like the play (Annapurna) and let Dori see it. And she loved it,” Gleason said.
Annapurna is the third highest mountain in the Himalayas, named after the Hindu Goddess of nourishment. Its namesake play premiered at Magic Theatre in San Francisco, which aptly described it as “a comic and gripping duet.” The play centers on the reunion of Emma and Ulysses 20 years after Emma walked out on her husband in the middle of the night with their five-year-old son.
Hearing that Ulysses is in bad shape, Emma has tracked him down to a grungy trailer in Colorado, where the once promising poet is wasting away from emphysema and lung cancer as he works to finish his magnum opus. In a series of scenes, the two characters reveal old emotional wounds as they relive the best and worst moments of their former relationship.
While this all sounds bleak, there are also moments of sharp comedy as the two characters banter back, and forth, Gleason said.
“It’s a story of love and loss,” with definite comic moments, added Samantha Rose, who is directing the production. Rose, a Whitney Point native, studied in the theater program at Binghamton University and directed How I Learned to Drive at KNOW last spring.
“Tim approached me with this piece, and I thought it would be a great experience working with him and Dori,” Rose said.
Even though she’s only 25, Rose said she can connect with the issues of a broken relationship. She is a child of divorce. One of the key points in Annapurna, she said, is that the characters “love and hate each other at the same time.”
Directing the play has been a rewarding experience because it involves working intensely with two skilled actors on the nuances of a play, she added, noting that a two-character play such as Annapurna is “a great showcase for actors.”
The play’s title refers to the epic poem that Ulysses is writing about Emma, in which he uses climbing the mountain Annapurna as a metaphor for their tortured relationship, Gleason said.
“People can climb to the top of a peak, but it comes at a price,” he noted.
Gleason called Annapurna a beautiful piece of writing that he has come to appreciate more and more, as he and Ganisin have worked on it. He likes to produce plays that challenge actors, and White’s play fits that category, he said.
IF YOU GO: Annapurna runs weekends April 7-23 at KNOW Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sundays are at 3 p.m. Tickets at $25 (seniors, $20; students, $15) are at www.knowtheatre.org. There is a pay-what-you-can night at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 13.
Annapurna contains adult language and content. It will be performed without an intermission.