Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
224 Waverly Pl. between Eleventh & Perry Sts.
Wednesday - Monday through June 22 (extended), $55
Quite by coincidence, we saw The Few and Annapurna on successive nights last week, and we couldn’t have been more struck by how oddly similar the two New York premieres were. Each work is a ninety-five-minute one-act contemporary drama written by an award-winning playwright and is set in a cluttered trailer, where a character unexpectedly returns to a former love after having been away for years. And in each case, letters play a key role in the plot. However, whereas one play is exciting and gripping, with surprise twists, the other drags on repetitively, with a late shock that comes out of nowhere and deflates the story. Writer Samuel D. Hunter (A Bright New Boise), director Davis McCallum (London Wall), and actress Tasha Lawrence (Wilder Wilder Wilder), who worked together on the widely hailed Playwrights Horizon hit The Whale, reunite for The Few, a sharply incisive tale running at the Rattlestick. The tale begins a few months before Y2K, as a down-and-out Bryan (Michael Laurence) suddenly shows up at his old trailer, where his abandoned love, QZ (Lawrence), has heroically kept the small paper they founded, The Few, going for four years. But she’s turned the idealistic journal about connecting lonely interstate truckers into a venue for personal ads and hired their unseen third partner’s nerdy nephew, Matthew (Gideon Glick), who pushes a reluctant Bryan to return The Few to its original lofty purpose. (We know, we know; just how interesting can a small paper for and about interstate truckers be? It turns out that it can be quite fascinating.) Glick (Spring Awakening) is a jittery marvel as Matthew, his tentative, stuttering delivery an excellent foil to the raw tension brought out by Lawrence and Laurence. McCallum’s aggressive, unpredictable direction prepares the audience for an explosion, and when it comes, just watch out.
In the New Group production of Annapurna, written by Sharr White (The Other Place, The Snow Geese) and directed by Bart DeLorenzo (Passion Play, Fast Company), Emma (Megan Mullally) suddenly shows up at Ulysses’s (Nick Offerman) run-down trailer in the mountains of Colorado. The former spouses haven’t seen each other in twenty years, since she walked out on him, taking their son with her. Emma arrives lugging several suitcases, apparently planning on staying a while, but Ulysses, wearing a butt-revealing apron and a life-sustaining backpack with an oxygen tube, wants no part of her, preferring to remain a hermit. They battle over the past, leading to a reveal that is like a reverse deus ex machina, draining the drama of any subtlety and making it about something else in a manipulative way. Real-life husband and wife Offerman (Parks and Recreation) and Mullally (Will & Grace) certainly have a familiarity with each other, but their characters’ affectations, especially Emma’s whininess, grow tiresome quickly. The conflict dries up long before the lights go out for the final time — DeLorenzo and lighting designer Michael Gend like to flip the switch like a kid with a new toy — so the last darkness comes as a relief. Annapurna lacks the energy and passion that drives The Few, the latter a far more successful exploration of responsibility, lost love, past misdeeds, and being a part of something that is bigger than oneself.