By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Ryan Fagan
Keith Wick and Rhonda Hallquist wring hope from hardship in "Annapurna" at Live Theatre Workshop.
Angry enough to kill himself just for spite, Ulysses (Keith Wick) has lived in self-inflicted trailer park squalor for nearly 20 years. Always looming on the horizon just outside his grimy trailer window are the crispy clear Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Though Ulysses looks like he's the prime subject for a country music anthem, Live Theatre Workshop's newest production, “Annapurna,” has more on its mind than twangy depression.
Thirty years ago a play like this toxic two-hander filled with high-octane vitriol would have been written by Sam Shepard as a battle of independent wills and family values spiced with white-knuckled blue collar profanity.
But now that we are in a new century of flowering feminism, the playwright Sharr White has given the female in her cast all the good lines. That would be Rhonda Hallquist playing the patiently hard-nosed Emma, who opens this 90-minute one-act by barging into Ulysses' empty, crumbling life.
Wick and Hallquist are two of Tucson's most respected actors, drilling into each other under Sabian Trout's direction. In some ways the bitter clash of personalities recalls George and Martha in “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
Like the bright red coal that burns within an ashen cinder, this very female/male tradition of opposing forces has fueled the confrontation festering inside each of them during the 20 years they have never seen or talked to each other.
Peering through the waves of spats and pauses in their barbed dialogue, we learn he was a college professor of writing who succumbed to alcohol and cigarettes. Though he has since managed to break free of both addictions, he is left a shell of a man who depends on the oxygen tank hanging loosely on his back.
On the outside Emma looks normal enough, with clean clothes and a sense of order that keeps her moving about his chaotic living space, cleaning and straightening, always trying to neutralize his endless dissatisfaction.
There is also a son that we never see. Now grown, this son wants to meet Ulysses, the father who abandoned him, the father he never knew. But the feeling is not mutual.
Ulysses finally admits, even though he left Emma, he never got over her. His life's work as a writer became an unfinished file box full of notes about needing to climb and conquer the treacherous Annapurna mountain in the Himalayas.
But Emma wants more from him than that. She wants him to want to see that Sam is their son.
“Annapurna” continues through June 10, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd.
Tickets are $20, with discounts available. For details and reservations, 327-4242, or visit livetheatreworkshop.org