Paonia, Colorado. The plucking of an acoustic guitar blends with sizzling light as the aroma of sausages tickles your nostrils. A cluttered trailer, resembling an episode of The Hoarder Next Door, is situated amongst the snowy mountains’ vibrant chilly blue air, as complementary orange rays of hot sun radiate through its roof.
Ulysses and Emma together, happily married. Until 20 years ago. Emma appears bearing suitcases to a completely shell-shocked Ulysses, wearing nothing but an apron across his crotch. Breathing from a tube leading to a backpack tightly gripped to his bare underarms, he can barely respond. Blackout. Followed by a second short and snappy scene, Sharr White’s dialogue shows potential.
A poet all his life, we are thrown into a whirlwind of Ulysses' life events, thoughts and memories, awaking one morning to an empty house, fearing his family had been abducted. After a hurtful realisation, he has spent the last 15 years writing and sending letters to his son, Sam, every day. With no reply, for a further 5 years he has kept hold of them. Emma, now despised by their partially deaf son, just wants him to acknowledge his actions, and to say so out loud. Yet being a recovered alcoholic, the big secret is a fog of nothingness before his sober eyes. With the help of private investigators, Sam has tracked down his father and is on his way to him, knowing time is of the essence.
Actual husband and wife Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally delve here into a completely new relationship. Mullally is most recognised for playing Karen Walker on Will & Grace, having won two Emmys and four Screen Actor Guild awards. Offerman received the Television Critics Award for individual achievement in comedy in the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. They do a mighty job of keeping us guessing. Yet the main irritating aspect of this one-act play is that the ‘big secret’, the long-awaited reveal, is dangled so often in front of our faces that we gradually lose interest. Nevertheless, when the crescendo happens, the atmosphere is electric. Offerman makes you cringe and contort inside as his tears fall heavily to the floor and he desperately wheezes for life and possibly forgiveness. Mullally, muddled and estranged from a man she still dearly desires, pines and retracts frantically. At the end we don’t see, but we gather. It’s tender.