by Bekah Caden
Experiencing the almost 30-year-old play Brilliant Traces at the Underground Theatre put me in a quandary. I left thinking, "What did I just see? What were they trying to say?"
The next day I bought the play book. "This," I thought, "is going to answer my questions."
The entire 90-minute play, lacking an intermission, takes place in a shack in the Alaskan wilderness, in a blizzard. Or rather a "white out," a blizzard so disorienting that you "...almost start walking into the air... You may think you're flying up into heaven." Here we start with a literal bang, as a young woman in a cumbersome wedding gown, Rosannah Deluce (portrayed by 2Cents Theatre member Roxanna Kaye), forces her way into the sparse home of hermit-like Henry Harry (Juan Lozano, another 2Cents member). She rambles a bit, explaining that she found herself here in a deadly storm and to make matters worse, her car has died. Henry looks on silently as she yells, eats, drinks his whiskey, and promptly faints.
Upon waking, we dive head first into nonsensical dialogue ranging from fights about shoes and the weather to what sounds like an out-of-body experience. Assuming caricatures of men and women, Henry and Rosannah tread lightly around a possible romance that is awkward, out of place, and incredibly inappropriate. The sources of their pain, connected by the theme of parenthood, adds to the weirdness of seeing them kiss and leaves them grasping at air while trying to connect.
The pace comes and goes like the swell of a wave. And occasionally, like a wave, it comes too quickly and leaves us disoriented--choking and sputtering for air.
Metaphor is relied on heavily and acts as the third character in this two-person play. The storm - a painfully obvious choice to represent emotional turmoil.
To me, it seemed the playwright, Cindy Lou Johnson, didn't understand what she was trying to say about emotion, grief, and parenthood. You can see the individual strands of thought but her attempts at cohesiveness fall apart into over-wrought metaphor and repetitive dialog. Instead of truly exploring the deep and destructive power of emotional pain, we're subjected to an annoyingly didactic woman unsure of her place in world, unsure if she's even in the world, and a man so one-dimensional it's hard to even call him a person.
Credit is given for attempting what seems, under the very best of circumstances, only a passable theatre piece. The entire production was doomed from the start. A friend of a friend once simply said, "Screw plot." His point being that so much goes into a production that specific plot details can often be over looked in favor of setting and character. I can agree to a certain extent. The thing is, one needs to be overtly superior and, in this case, neither the plot, characters, and most certainly not the setting, are the superior agent.
I'd like to see a thoughtful, modernized adaptation of Brilliant Traces. In the right hands, we'd be able to experience the story of two broken people looking, and hopefully finding, solace in an unexpected place. As it is, we're thrown into a contrived and cluttered story that fails to leave anything brilliant behind.