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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Sharr White’s two-hander is about the reuniting and possible reconciliation of a divorced couple whose marriage had come to a terrible end with an unforgivable event. There are many questions that will be answered and just as many that won’t be during this disturbing and also confounding play in which two people who had once had a passionate and committed attachment to each other had subsequently become resigned to living with their rage and their willingness to find and affix blame.
The real circumstance that has evidently prompted Emma to seek out Ulysses is that their adult son whom Ulysses hasn’t seen since Emma ran away with him twenty years ago is coming to see his father after hiring a detective to find him. Emma is determined to prepare Ulysses for the visit, and to also jar his apparently permanently lapsed memory as to what happened twenty years ago. Ulysses, who claims to have no idea why Emma left, has however been sending letters to his son whom we learn has a physical impairment. The letters, sent to Emma’s mother, were never answered.
It is soon enough revealed that Ulysses is not only a recovering, violence-prone alcoholic terminally ill with cancer, but also that the bruises that he sees on Emma’s arms and shoulders have been caused by the man she subsequently married and has just run away from with a stash of his cash. The thrust of the play is devoted to defining their volatile relationship in the context of what they are going to do and how they reconcile their feelings for each other now.
Although the play’s metaphorical title obviously alludes to Ulysses’ aspirations as a poet and writer, it is the complexity of the physical attraction as well as the metaphysical bond between him and Emma, a staunch, unsentimental New Englander that gives us plenty to think about. It certainly remains for the two players to scale some very emotionally draining, physically demanding terrain symbolically not unlike that undertaken by the climber Maurice Herzog in his horrendous experience ascending and descending the famous Himalayan peak in his book with same name.
Although Galman has to defiantly bellow as much as bemoan how he has yet to atone for something he has done but can’t remember, his performance is centered in a gritty practicalist’s reality, one that is slowly and painstaking taking form in an epic poem that he has been writing on bits of paper over the years.
Perhaps additional performances will give Bonati time to settle into a less mannered performance as Emma, one that is less governed by arbitrary affectations and hopefully more by rooted with the simplicity of real feelings. Nevertheless, White’s play, under the attentive direction of Suzanne Barabas, probes relentlessly and uncompromisingly into a tortured relationship that some will find it, as I did, adventurous. Others may be inclined to see Ulysses and Emma as incorrigible and the play inscrutable. In any case, it is sure to initiate conversation and controversy.
Later this season, White will be making his Broadway debut with the Manhattan Theater Club’s production of The Other Place, previously produced Off Broadway with Laurie Metcalf repeating her acclaimed performance.
In addition to sharing with the audience the news that The New Jersey Repertory Company was among the 2012 recipients that won an award given by the American Theater Wing to theater companies that “have articulated a distinctive mission, cultivated an audience, and nurtured a community of artists in ways that strengthen and demonstrate the quality, diversity, and dynamism of American theatre, Executive Director Gabor Barabas, announced that NJ Rep will be producing eight new plays within the next fourteen months. Now that’s scaling the peak.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company