The Magic Theatre presents…….
Written by Sharr White
Directed by Loretta Greco
Starring Rod Gnapp and Denise Cormier

Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does.
Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
James A. Baldwin

“ANNAPURNA contains everything that comprises a great Magic play: rich, precise language, high stakes, arresting metaphors, complicated characters and emotional daring,” says Loretta Greco, Magic’s Artistic Director, and director of this production. “It’s a family play …. full of buried secrets, inexplicable hope and the eternal theses of mortality, faith and redemption.”

But the element that makes this work a stunning achievement is Rod Gnapp as Ulysses, at the bottom of his luck, dying of emphysema alone and angry, recovering from major lung surgery. We meet him standing in the kitchen of his dilapidated mobile home frying rancid sausages with nothing on but an apron. It takes a great leap of faith to buy the image we see before us, much less care about him. We see a wasted, unsavory remnant of a human being, bitter and filled with furious self-pity, void of any shred of goodness. His is a disgusting character: a man reduced to a vicious animal. Yet, Gnapp’s portrayal transforms Ulysses into a tragic hero, a man who could have been so much, reduced to so little. His body language, his facial expressions, and his bullet-like delivery all paint the picture of a beautiful human being submerged beneath the prickly, poisonous shell of the man we see before us. The art of a master actor is to incorporate the personality of his character so completely that the audience actually experiences his vulnerability and his longing to be whole. Gnapp’s Ulysses is as real as the man next door, as the guy you loved who could never break through his shell to release his potential. “I wanted the simplicity and challenge of working with just two characters,” says author Sharr White. “I find 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.”

And this is what Emma (Denise Cormier) is all about. She has learned that her ex-husband is dying. She left him twenty years ago when she discovered their son had been brutalized, but her own sense of betrayal and outrage could not erase what he was and would always be to her. She returns to him and despite the lost years, the audience realizes that their bond has not broken, even though the two people on stage have yet to figure that out.

The dialogue in this play is mesmerizing because it is real. The miscommunication and the verbal thrusts that hide the pain each suffers is the stuff of relationships. We have all been there. We have all fought useless battles like the one we see unfolding before us, hating our anger yet unable to suppress it.

Andrew Boyce’s set creates the perfect background for the couple’s furious encounter. Loretta Greco’s direction makes the hour and forty minute production evaporate into a moment. Make no mistake, there are gaps in the plot, and unexplained motivations, but isn’t that the way it is in life? We don’t always know why we do things and we don’t always get it right. In the end, these characters who meet like two churning volcanoes anxious to spew lava over one another come to terms with who they really are and how little they are to blame for what they once thought about each other. All that really matters is that they have rediscovered one another. The poignancy is that there is so little time left for them. “It takes courage to love, truly love,” says dramaturge Lue Morgan Douthit. “ …… we are social animals, and one is the loneliest and most unnatural number. Before we go ‘into that good night’, we need to know that we made a connection.”

Ulysses and Emma made that connection twenty years ago and they find it before our eyes. Gnapp and Cormier breathe truth into every line. Indeed, it is the acting that will embed this production of ANNAPURNA into your heart. You will not soon forget its definition of what humanity can become. This play is a dramatic masterpiece all the more meaningful because the tortured characters on stage could so easily have been us.

If you press me to say why I loved him,
I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.
Michel de Montaigne

ANNAPURNA continues through December 4, 2011
Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Tickets $20-$60, 415 441 8822 or
1 hour 40 minutes: no intermission