1 Sharr White's "Annapurna" at the Jungle Theater boasts bristling work by actors Terry Hempleman and Angela Timberman — and a serious debt to playwright Sam Shepard. Ulysses (Hempleman) is a recovering alcoholic whose disease contributed to a moment that undid his life. He could be a character in a Shepard play. His ex-wife, Emma (Timberman), an undernourished whip with a keen intelligence, suddenly shows up at his door — 20 years after she left with their son. The characters confront the past and each other.
2 The best songs on Prince's new "HitNRun" are the final two: the sexy, minimalist slow jam "1000 X's & O's," and the dreamy, rivetingly weird, metaphysical ballad "June." The latter features Prince's most personal lyrics here, including his musing that sometimes he feels he was born too late and "I should have been born on the Woodstock stage." That comes after the admission that he and the woman in question make love to a Richie Havens LP. Another line that jumps out: "How can you be everybody's dream and still be somebody's wife" followed by "Tell me what did you have for lunch today." From the sublime to the mundane.
3 M. Night Shyamalan likes to finish his movies with unexpected surprises. The real shock in "The Visit" is that, after a decade away from praiseworthy work, the director is back in crackerjack form. The story of two siblings filming a week's winter holiday at their estranged grandparents' home, it's a smartly staged thriller rather than a formula shocker, playing on all our fears like a Steinway grand piano.
4 Hard to believe that one of the most ambitious bands in heavy metal has never issued a double studio album, but Iron Maiden's "The Book of Souls" is strong enough to suggest the resilient British vets were simply waiting for the right material. The 11 tracks — three of which clock in over 10 minutes — are loaded with standard battlefields-of-hell lyricism but extraordinary, intricate guitar work and a superhuman showing from cancer-surviving singer Bruce Dickinson. Here's hoping their expected Twin Cities date next year will be three hours to accommodate a lot of the new record.
5 Jason Starr's new novel "Savage Lane" is a deadly tale of dysfunctional people living on a cul-de-sac in an upscale suburb. Deb Berman is a boozing, unhappy housewife who is having an affair with a loser, while her husband, Mark, is slightly out of touch with reality. Their attractive neighbor, divorced and dating-again mom Karen Daily, draws unfair gossip. Add to this mix two distrustful teenage daughters, a psychopathic killer and a likable gay detective, and you get a fun, trashy domestic thriller.