Shadow Theatre production, playing at the Varscona Theatre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
January 18 to February 5, 2017
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, Hicksbiz.ca
This production of Annapurna, at the Varscona Theatre through Sunday February 5, is as satisfying an evening of theatre as is possible in Edmonton, or anywhere for that matter.
The script, beautifully written by American Sharr White in the Sam Shepard tradition, is deeply cynical as it explores loss and loneliness, self-destruction, terrible life choices and emotional pain.
And it has the most beautiful rays of redemptive sunshine, moments so tender as to make one weep in some strange mixture of joy and sadness.
And, in marvellous synchronicity with its many other themes, in a very intelligent way, Annapurna is extremely humourous.
The title, by the way, refers to one of the highest and most difficult-to-climb mountains in the world. P.S. it’s a metaphor.
So veteran Shadow Theatre director John Hudson found this jewel of a theatrical two-hander, and he knew exactly who he wanted to play Ulysses and Emma. Emma, at the start of the play, shows up unannounced at Ulysses’ decaying house trailer 20 years after having left him in the middle of the night, taking their five-year-old son Sam with her.
It is a joy to see Shaun Johnston back on stage – the Edmonton-based character actor being in high demand for television shows (Heartland) and movies. He was born to play Ulysses, with his big, shabby presence, his coarse, deep drawl of a voice, and his perfect timing – both comedic and tragic. The opening scene of Annapura is a vintage Johnston moment, clad in nothing but a greasy kitchen apron and that’s only because Ulysses is frying sausage. It's as rich a role as Johnston's portrayal of a psycho killer in the premiere of Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love some 25 years ago.
While we have seen much more of Coralie Cairns on Edmonton stages – she’s an actor of choice for middle-aged female comedic or highly dramatic roles – she was equally born to play the beguiling mix of contradiction and confidence that is Emma.
The greatest satisfaction of this show is soaking up the dynamic between Johnston as the cynical, beat-up, deeply wounded poet Ulysses, spiralling down to trailer trash and slowly dying to boot, and Cairns as the Emma who had to abandon the one great love of her life.
This script is a thing of beauty for these two fine actors. They hold the audience in the palms of their hands for 90 minutes of little else but their struggle to reconnect, their deep love for each other layered over with so much suspicion, pain and circumstance as to make one’s head spin.
Annapurna is a beautiful piece of theatre, and having Shaun Johnston and Coralie Cairns on stage together is the icing on this cake.
Don’t miss it.