Rod Gnapp is back! He looks somewhat disheveled, lives in a trailer that could use a fumigation, and enjoys frying sausages donning nothing but a greasy apron. Quite the accidental nudist this one. It could be laughable, if it weren’t for that breathing assistance device he needs to carry around in a backpack 7/24.
All I could think was: Holy crap. Holy crap! Holy…crrrrrap!! Rod Gnapp is most assuredly, along with James Carpenter, one of the Bay Area’s greatest, working stage actors. To see him at this week’s world premiere of Sharr White’s Annapurna is to experience magic–in many senses of the word. This is a play that feels right at home at the Fort Mason Center under the astute care of director Loretta Greco. Magic Theatre is a legendary stage where Gods have tread–Sean Penn, Peter Coyote, Danny Glover, Ed Harris–so on any given night you can feel that electricity. Live theater is a wondrous thing: just the anticipation itself, as the house lights go down, is reason enough to take a night off from Call of Duty or Skyrim. The stage. There is no substitute.
Then Gnapp, as the forlorn and destitute Ulysses, receives a most unexpected visitor; one he hasn’t seen for twenty years. Emma (Dennise Cormier) wants answers. Unfortunately for Ulysses, the past consisted of smoking five packs a day (“a record!”) and hitting the bottle hard. Now, all that remains is this trailer home somewhere in Colorado, and an incessant, barking dog. As for matters related to the heart: fog of war.
Brewing slowly, quietly an unlikely relationship is re-born. In the final act, revelations flow. Rodd Gnapp cries out in agony. He has reached the summit, but necessarily required the destruction of everything around him. Then, minutes of glorious angst, and silence. When spoken words fail, a lifelong poem–penned on paper towels, and napkins–brings Emma and Ulysses full circle, or does it?
Layers and metaphors are central to Annapurna. How you interpret this two-person play is directly a measure of how you discern art, relationships, and love. I found the acting most satisfying of all. Though Cormier opened stiff and couldn’t match Gnapp’s wicked performance earlier on, she found her rhythm just in time for the final act, just when we needed her most.
At times the build-up was glacial. I kept wondering if the play was going anywhere. Were we just to watch an acting masterclass by Gnapp, admire the incredible set (a mobile home open on all sides, complete with living room, kitchen, bedroom and shower), and get yet another dose of Magic skin (how they love the flesh!) ? If there is not complete pay-off in the climax, there is at least an interesting resolution; either that or the poetic beauty has completely passed me by.
Complex characters, and challenging material are two common traits of Magic Theatre productions. Time again after a show, as we stroll along the Marina District, I discuss the production with my wife Loni. We intensely debate, we stubbornly disagree. At these moments we realize why we love the theater, and why we aspire to cover as much as we can here; it’s just too damn remarkable.
Magic Theatre, San Francisco
3.5 out of 5 stars (Sweet Stuff)
Directed by Loretta Greco
Starring Denise Cormier, Rod Gnapp
Written by Sharr White
Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
[Photo Credit: Jennifer Reiley]