by Sharr White
directed by Loretta Greco
After twenty years apart, Emma tracks Ulysses to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere for a final reckoning. What unfolds is a visceral and profound meditation on love and loss with the simplest of theatrical elements: two people in one room.
Playwright Sharr White’s wit is razor sharp, his insight deep, and his poetry spare. Nothing could be more epic.
“Sharr White’s Annapurna a comic and gripping duet …The closer [Cormier and Gnapp] get to understanding what drove them apart, the more engrossed we become in watching them draw together.”—Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Chronicle
“This was an amazing production! The play was beautifully rendered, sensitively enacted and the whole experience was flawless for us.”—Patron Review
“Annapurna is the most electrifying play of the year—and the actors Denise Cormier and Rod Gnapp who play Emma and Ulysses made Sharr White’s words light up like firecrackers. I felt the heat…It’s not often that you come across a script that is this explosive. You must see this remarkable play!”—Lee Hartgrave, BeyondChron.org
“Fine writing, great acting and well directed. This play will touch your heart. Don’t miss it!”—Patron Review
“Sharr White’s latest opus is…given a pitch perfect production in its world premiere…all the elements of great theatre are on display…Brilliant acting by Rod Gnapp and Denise Cormier…Director Loretta Greco is at her best.”—Kedar K. Adour, For All Events
“The play was totally fascinating, captivating and emotionally rich.”—Patron Review
“Annapurna grabs you. You can’t take your eyes off [Cormier and Gnapp] as they take the measure of each other. In the end, with all its mystery, we are watching the best kind of love story: hot, doomed and captivating.”—Doug Konecky, SF Theater Blog
Listen to Loretta Greco's interview by KPFA's Richard Wolinsky by clicking here.
Sharr White’s plays have been developed or produced at theatres across the country, including MCC Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, South Coast Repertory, Marin Theatre Company, Lincoln Center Theater’s Directors Lab, Key West Theatre Festival, Caldwell Theatre Company, and others. Mr. White’s The Other Place premiered Off-Broadway with MCC Theater, directed by Joe Mantello, and starring Laurie Metcalf. The Other Place was a recipient of the 2010 Playwrights First Award; the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation’s Theatre Visions Fund Award; and was an Outer Critics Circle Award nominee for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play. Mr. White’s Sunlight was commissioned by South Coast Repertory, and premiered at Marin Theatre Company as part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere. Mr. White’s Six Years was produced at the 30th Anniversary Humana Festival of New American Plays. Mr. White has also been honored with a Dr. Henry and Lilian Nesburn Award as part of the Julie Harris Award in Playwriting (The Escape Velocity of Savages); a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship (Six Years); and the 2009 Sky Cooper New American Play Prize (Sunlight). Annapurna was a South Coast Repertory commission; and was developed with Loretta Greco during SCR’s 2011 Pacific Playwrights Festival.
Loretta Greco (director) is proud to helm her fourth season at Magic with the premiere of Sharr White’s Annapurna. In the last three seasons at Magic, Ms. Greco has developed and produced the work of Lloyd Suh, Laura Shellhardt, John Kolvenbach, Luis Alfaro, Lydia Stryk, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Carter Lewis, Oni Faida Lampley, Liz Duffy Adams, Theresa Rebeck, and Taylor Mac. Her selected Magic directing credits include: Mauritius, Goldfish, Or, and Oedipus el Rey. Ms. Greco’s New York premieres include Tracey Scott Wilson’s The Story, the OBIE Award-winning Lackawanna Blues by Ruben Santiago Hudson and Nilo Cruz’s Two Sisters and a Piano at The Public Theater; Katherine Walat’s Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen, Karen Hartman’s Gum, Toni Press Coffman’s Touch, and Rinne Groff’s Inky at Women’s Project; Emily Mann’s Meshugah at Naked Angels Theater Company; Laura Cahill’s Mercy at The Vineyard Theatre and Nilo Cruz’s A Park in Our House at New York Theatre Workshop. Ms. Greco directed the national tour of Emily Mann’s Having Our Say as well as the play’s international premiere at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, South Africa. Regional credits include the critically acclaimed revival of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow and the West Coast premiere of David Harrower’s Blackbird at American Conservatory Theater; Romeo and Juliet and Stop Kiss at Oregon Shakespeare Festival as well as productions at La Jolla Playhouse, South Coast Rep, McCarter Theatre Center, Long Wharf Theatre, Studio Theater, Intiman Theatre, Williamstown Theatre Festival, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Area Stage, Coconut Grove Playhouse, Playmakers Repertory Company and The Cleveland Play House. She has developed work with dozens of writers at Sundance, The O’Neill, The Mark Taper Forum, New Harmony, New York Stage and Film, The Cherry Lane, New Dramatists and The Public Theater. Prior to her Magic post, Ms. Greco served as Producing Artistic Director of NY’s Women’s Project, where she developed and produced the work of Diane Paulus, Deirdre Murray, Lynn Nottage, Karen Hartman, Caridad Svitch, Rinne Groff and Lisa D’Amour. She also served as Associate Director/Resident Producer at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton where she conceived and launched their Second Stage OnStage initiative and produced the work of Athol Fugard, Emily Mann, Jon Robin Baitz, Anna Deveare Smith, Doug Wright, Adrianne Kennedy, Nilo Cruz, and Joyce Carol Oates among others. Ms. Greco received her MFA from Catholic University, her BA from Loyola University of the South, and is the recipient of two Drama League Fellowships and a Princess Grace Award.
+Member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the union for stage directors and choreographers.
Denise Cormier* (Emma) Ms. Cormier is thrilled to be making her Magic Theatre debut. National Tour: The Graduate. Regional: The Diary of Anne Frank (Indiana Repertory Theatre, Pioneer Theatre Company); Intimate Apparel (Actors Theatre of Louisville); Bill W. and Dr. Bob (Cleveland Play House); The Poetry of Pizza (Virginia Stage Company); Cabaret,Steel Magnolias (Arts Center of Coastal Carolina); After Ashley (Kitchen Theatre); Tender, Spinning into Butter (Gloucester Stage Company); Hunter Gatherers (W.H.A.T.); Laughter on the 23rd Floor (Lyric Stage); Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Merrimack Repertory Theatre). TV/Film: Law & Order CI, Six Degrees, Guiding Light, The Big Gay Musical. MFA: Shakespeare Theatre Company-Academy for Classical Acting at GWU. www.denisecormier.com
Rod Gnapp* (Ulysses) A graduate of the American Conservatory Theater’s MFA program and a veteran of Bay Area stages, Mr. Gnapp was last seen at Magic in What We’re Up Against, Goldfish, Mrs. Whitney and Mauritius. Recent credits include: The Taming of the Shrew, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, and The Pastures of Heaven at Cal Shakes; The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Scapin at American Conservatory Theater; Tiny Alice at Marin Theatre Company; and Awake and Sing! at Aurora Theatre Company. Mr. Gnapp can be seen as a bad guy in the independent feature film Touching Home by the Miller Brothers, with Ed Harris. He can also be seen in Valley of the Hearts Delite, a local independent feature, as the bad guy.
*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers.
Last month, Annapurna playwright Sharr White and Magic’s Playwright in Residence Christina Anderson exchanged email to discuss his inspiration for the piece. This Session with Magic’s Scribes touches on feeling like a dinosaur to the power of forgiveness.
Date: Wed Oct 5 at 12:34pm
How are you?Hope this email finds you well.I read Annapurna last night. It's a really dynamic play with exciting language. So much to talk about!First things first: What inspired you to write this piece? The characters are so distinct. The relationship is rich. How did you piece this world together?
Date: Wed Oct 5 at 2:34pm
Subject: Re: Annapurna
Hi Christina – How are you? So glad you liked the play, thanks for spending time with it.
I really started thinking about this piece almost fifteen years ago when my friend Joan McGillis, who was a theatre professor of mine, moved to Key West with her husband, who had been diagnosed with Emphysema. While there she produced one of my first plays and I spent close to a month with them. There was something about the intimacy of their relationship, about the way they would dance around the edge of Don's illness in almost every exchange, that made me want to build two characters inspired by—not them per se, because the circumstances of the characters in Annapurna is absolutely fictional—but inspired by their situation. And then, years after that, I found an article in the New York Times which profiled couples who came back together after years of estrangement due to the news of a terminal illness, and I knew this was something that would make a good comedy (joking.)
The final piece of the puzzle came two years ago when my brother gave me the book Annapurna, by Maurice Herzog, which tells about Herzog's epic world-first ascent of an eight thousand meter peak. And something struck me about Herzog's story. Yes, it's a mountaineering story, but it's also the tale of a complex and dangerous relationship, one that involves risk, and thrill, and a magnetic, unanswerable attraction. Hard-core climbers often talk about commitment. When a climber commits, that means they have come to a point in their climb where they must erase all possibility of moving backwards. The only way is forward, even though they have no idea what 'forward' will bring. Will they triumph? Will they be trapped by some unknown obstacle? It's terrifying. And thrilling. And that's the feeling I wanted to explore in Ulysses' and Emma's relationship.
It's fun to learn about the sparks of inspiration. And it's equally interesting to find out about the amount of time that passed as each bit came together.
Do you start each play in this way--collecting ideas or thoughts over a period of time? Or was the process unique for Annapurna?
I suppose I really do, though I hesitate to admit it because so much time does wind up passing between a first spark and a commitment to an idea. While I'm in the middle of a project I try to keep the wheels spinning about what might be next. I usually have a lineup that I configure over and over in my head, the question always being, Am I ready to write this yet? Is it the right time in my life? What juncture has the play previously led me to? What have I learned by making the latest attempt? What am I now ready to risk, thematically and formally? There has to be enough risk to make it pull me out of bed in the morning, but there also has to be just enough possibility that I can execute the idea. And I have to love it.
The questions you ask yourself are great. It's comforting to read another writer has a similar approach when fleshing out an idea for the next play.
So when you sat down to start this one, what pulled you to your computer (or writing pad)? And by the way, the opening scene is like a race horse taking off from the starting gate! It's visually alive and the language is electric at the start. Did you write in order: scene one, two, three, etc ... Or did you start with an independent image / line / section of dialogue?
Is that how you work too? As a playwright I always feel like a dinosaur. Glad to know I've got company!
I was just struck by this one. Everything that had been slowly steeping for years leaped out at me. I'd been working another idea that wasn't coming together (and which I'm back on to now), and once I'd read the Herzog book it all became crystal clear. But how do you start something like this out? They were once a couple. In a way they've always been a couple even though they've been away from each other for twenty years. Where do you start? I really felt I wanted them to pick up with the same cadence, the same knowledge of each other, the same rhythms that they'd last used with one another. I really wanted them to almost pick up in mid-sentence where they'd left off. I truly hate saying this, but I'm just old enough now to know that twenty years is not actually a long time. Not when it concerns someone who has been such an influence in your life. It became a fun game to play: what's the very first sentence you say to someone after twenty years?
For the most part I really do have to write sequentially, no matter the play. This one especially, because it's just the two of them. The ebb and the flow of the structure and language is so based on what's been said before. My process really is a matter of forging through, discovering something new, then going back to the beginning and re-drafting based on the new information I've uncovered.
I do think that it's very important to hold an image in your mind of where you're heading with a play; a final scene or moment, so that all your thoughts get corralled toward that moment. Because ultimately you're building a play, sustaining an idea, that moves towards a catharsis, and I think that if you don't discover early in your process what that catharsis is you can become quite lost.
Well, I think it's important to be a bit self-reflective as I develop an idea for a new play. I always ask those type questions. It keeps the process personal and purposeful. And I find it's helping me build a cohesive body of work.
It's great to read your thoughts about Ulysses and Emma reuniting after twenty years. Their relationship is so complex--full of memories, love, anger and ritual. And although it's just the two of them in this play, the setting seems to be its own character! Can you write a bit about where the play takes place? Why Paonia, Colorado?
The setting does definitely have its own character. I really felt it was important to the story that Ulysses had backed himself into a corner as much as possible. My whole family is from Colorado; my mother was raised on the western slope of the Rockies, my grandfather was a mining engineer in these very small towns: Rifle, Grand Valley (now called Parachute), and so I spent a lot of time there as a boy. And there's nothing quite like the isolation, or the beauty, of that area. Many towns there are dry and desperate and yet have their roots set in this grand gold-rush optimism. In fact I had originally set the play in Rifle, but you can't see mountains from there, only mesas and buttes, so I had to move Ulysses further into the range, to a place with the view of a peak so that the metaphor of Annapurna was fully integrated into the setting. The peak is Mount Gunnison; and that's why Paonia.
How is Annapurna similar to / different from your other work?
It's different in form and structure; I think that's where I tend to vary my work most. I'm always trying to tell a story in a way that I personally haven't explored yet. This is my first two-hander, for instance; I really wanted the simplicity and challenge of working with just two characters. The similarity I think is in the nature of lost-ness. I find that again and again I'm writing plays about people who are found by others. Who, in the face of all their flaws, are forgiven for who they might have been or what they might have done in the past.
I'm wondering if your background plays a part in your work as a whole.
It does; does it in yours? I think I'm letting my background become even more a part of my plays as my body of work grows; or perhaps as I grow older. I'm less afraid to look at aspects of stories that feel much more personal. And that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm writing biographically, but that I think my plays are starting to more closely chart in spirit what I'm experiencing in my life currently. Which includes going back to settings I'm intimate with, or mining family dynamics that I'm interested in; even if that means exploring those dynamics on a fictional level.
Sharr, that's so beautiful! The idea of forgiveness and being found. Those are such human and raw quests that can create a profound impact. And I love that those elements exist in this play alongside nature.
I don't write (auto)biographical plays per se, but I find that I tackle emotional history in my work. Does that make sense? For example, I tackle the emotions of losing someone, having experienced that myself, but I don't delve into the real life circumstance. My upbringing definitely influences my work--I grew up in Kansas--but I haven't fully embraced those characteristics, not yet.
Alright, switching gears a bit as we bring things to a close...this play will have its world premiere at Magic. And you'll work with the incomparable Loretta Greco. What excites you about having the play here?
It makes perfect sense, I like very much the idea of emotional history. And it's funny you say that because lately as I've stopped to look back through my work, each piece has in some ways felt like a different chapter in a very odd journal: X and Y from my life having worked their way very clearly into the play I'm writing at the time.
What excites me about having a play at the theatre that premiered Buried Child, Fool for Love, True West, Tongues and Why We Have A Body, and was the artistic home of Joseph Chaikin, Robert Woodruff and Sam Shepard? When I was a student at A.C.T. we used to drink at The Thorn on California Street (is The Thorn even still there? And you'll have to correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that Magic's first home?) just in hopes that some of Magic's history would rub off on us. It's just really exciting to have a play under Loretta's guidance at such a storied theatre.
And finally, if you weren't an awesome theater maker, you'd probably make ...
Thanks. That's really kind of you to say. I think I'd build houses or stone walls or put up fences, which is exhausting and gratifying and leaves you with something lasting at the end of the day.
One of the first playwriting lessons I had compared the craft to architecture. And the rehearsal room was the construction site. So, by my former teacher's measure, you're not that far off.
Sharr, thank you for this exchange. It's been so great to email with you these past few days.
Thank you, Christina, it's been great getting to know you. Soon,
In the opening scene of Sharr White's new, two-character play, "Annapurna," self-styled cowboy-poet Ulysses is frozen with astonishment, holding a sizzling pan of sausages and wearing nothing but a tiny, greasy apron, a pair of bedroom slippers and an oxygen pack. Standing in the doorway of his trailer is his estranged ex-wife, Emma. Both are in their mid-50s.
"Holy crap!" exclaims Ulysses.
"I know!" says the equally shocked visitor.
The two haven't been in touch for 20 years, not since an appalling and incomprehensible event caused Emma to grab their baby son and depart.
“Sharr White’s Annapurna a comic and gripping duet...The closer [Cormier and Gnapp] get to understanding what drove them apart, the more engrossed we become in watching them draw together.” [Read the full review].
“Greco’s beautifully spare production at Magic theatre captures the play’s compelling qualities…[Cormier] and Gnapp exude a palpable chemistry.”
“This was an amazing production! The play was beautifully rendered, sensitively enacted and the whole experience was flawless for us.”
“Fine writing, great acting and well directed. This play will touch your heart. Don’t miss it!”
“The play was totally fascinating, captivating and emotionally rich.”
“Sharr White’s latest opus is…given a pitch perfect production in its world premiere…all the elements of great theatre are on display…Brilliant acting by Rod Gnapp and Denise Cormier…Director Loretta Greco is at her best…This show will surely be a sellout.”
“Annapurna is the most electrifying play of the year—and the actors Denise Cormier and Rod Gnapp who play Emma and Ulysses made Sharr White’s words light up like firecrackers. I felt the heat…It’s not often that you come across a script that is this explosive. You must see this remarkable play!
“Annapurna grabs you. You can’t take your eyes off [Cormier and Gnapp] as they take the measure of each other. In the end, with all its mystery, we are watching the best kind of love story: hot, doomed and captivating.”
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