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Brilliant Traces

a Drama
by Cindy Lou Johnson

COMPANY : Synchronicity Performance Group [WEBSITE]
VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 4258

SHOWING : March 02, 2012 - March 25, 2012



A bedraggled young woman in full bridal gear breaks into a remote Alaska cabin, belts down some whiskey and faints. Promptly. And for days. The young man she’s disturbed is amazed and bewildered, and so begins their uneasy dance of affection, annoyance and forced cohabitation. A story of love, loss and the unlikely places we find sanctuary.


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by Dedalus
Monday, March 19, 2012
What distinguishes us from each other?

Some say it’s “the mark we leave on the universe,” the things we have done or said (good and bad) that leave traces behind. Others say it’s the characteristics that “separate us from the crowd,” the eccentricities we pride ourselves on nurturing (or, as Luisa says in “The Fantasticks,” “Please don’t ever let me be normal.”) Still others claim, it’s those we love and who love us back, the people we choose to accompany us through life and whom we nurture along the way.

This last, of course, begs the question – what about those who choose solitude? Do they just fade away, lost in an indistinguishable sameness, like a polar bear in an Alaskan white-out blizzard?

This last is the thematic backbone to Cindy Lou Johnson’s 1989 play, “Brilliant Traces,” now being given a revival by Synchronicity Theatre at the 7 Stages small backstage space. Though I admired its crisp characterizations and energetic delivery, I found its contrivances to be less than convincing, and its conclusion a bit, well, inconclusive. For all intents and purposes, despite a blizzard of virtues, this play suffers from much of the same “indistinguishableness” so feared by its heroine.

We’re in a wilderness cabin, a howling wind freezing us to the marrow. Suddenly, there’s a pounding on the door, propelling a single quilt-clad resident to alertness. In stumbles Rosannah Deluce, clad in a bridal gown that has seen happier times. She babbles a bit too coherently for about ten minutes before passing out from hunger, exhaustion, and exposure. Our quilt-clad cabin denizen, in a vaguely creepy sequence, lifts her onto the bed, cleans her up, and sits and waits, Two days later, Rosannah awakes to a steaming pot of day-old soup, some baggy clothes, and a snow-bound cabin mate as socially awkward as she.

What follows is a short winter’s journey into night as Rosannah and cabin-guy (he says his name is “Henry Harry” and there’s no reason to disbelieve him) take turns confessing and consoling, their emotional journey drifting from point to point until a final resolution that seems “final,” but, given what has gone before, could seesaw in another direction a minute after curtain call.

And that’s the problem here. Rosannah and Harry each have very sound psychological reasons to be anti-social and proximity-to-anyone-phobic, and, as a result, have little psychological reason to be so open with each other. Considering they “spill their guts” mere minutes after being acquainted, I had trouble accepting them as real characters beyond the playwright’s contrived constructs. It doesn’t help that a plot point regarding Rosannah’s family is casually revealed late in the encounter, making it a “from left field” detail that doesn’t especially jibe with her previous stories,

In other words, this encounter has nothing new or surprising about it, and seems indistinguishable from a thousand other “let’s throw two characters into an inescapable scene and see what happens” scenarios. They could just as easily been on a lifeboat, a stalled bus, or a desert island. Okay, the icy Alaska setting does offer some thematic and symbolic resonance, but what good is that if we don’t accept the characters as “real people?”

And yet, here I am, almost a week later, still thinking about them and about “what may happen next.”

Credit has to go to Kate Graham and Chad Martin, who make Rosannah and Henry stay on the right side of that charming/annoying divide that threatens to overcome them. In particular, Ms. Graham starts off the play in a very grating fashion, barging in and soliloquizing for no apparent reason, too coherent by half given what we learn is her physical condition and emotional ordeal. Yet, for some reason, the combination of wedding dress and Alaskan blizzard seemed to put me in a frame of mind to accept it, and her. And, as her damaged side becomes more apparent throughout the play, the annoying parts of her take on a charm all their own.

Chad Martin seems a tad too young to carry the character of Henry (he is a supervisor on an oil rig who, years before, left behind a wife and child because of [deleted by spoiler police]. He would be more believable in his 40’s or 50’s, not as a contemporary of Rosannah’s. A bigger age disparity would make their reaching out have a more “hard won’ aspect, less a “Will they fall in love?” undertone. Sucjh a disparity would (may) make that initial scene a little less (more) creepy.

Still and all, I can sit here and nit-pick about all the dramaturgical deficiencies I saw in this play, and whine about “it should have done this” or “it didn’t do that.” I can pontificate about the heavy-handed symbolism of the “below floor” lights which overemphasized the shack’s seediness without adding any emotional heft. I could kvetch about how too much of the set design was in service more to the repertory with “Petite Rouge” than to any “organic” (meaningful) analysis of this particular piece’s needs. But, when all is said and done, these two lingered with me, and may stick in my memory for some time to come.

And, that’s what makes this play stand out from the other indistinguishable “character studies” that may drift our way.

-- Brad Rudy (BK



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