nytheatre.com review by Mary Beth Smith
July 7, 2011
It is often said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and in Cindy Lou Johnson’s play Brilliant Traces these words ring true about every aspect of her two misguided, psychologically disturbed, lonely characters. WE Theater in association with Iron Jaw Company presents this show with the clarity and precision needed to successfully execute this fast-paced drama.
We first meet Erica Linderman’s incarnation of Rosannah Deluce as she invades Henry’s home in an oil-soaked wedding dress, seeking refuge from a massive snow storm after her car has broken down. The first five minutes of the show consists of her talking 90 miles a minute about nothing and everything all at once. She is in a frenzied state and continues to talk herself to the point of exhaustion when she promptly passes out. William W. Warren’s silent portrayal of Henry Harry within these first few minutes of the play is crucial to setting up both characters for the rest of the show. Henry not only silently allows this intruder to drink his alcohol and talk his ear off, but once she has passes out he takes care of her by putting her into bed, ensuring she has a change of clothes, and then promptly makes her soup for when she wakes up, two days later. It is only when she awakens, about ten minutes after the show has started, that we hear Henry speak for the first time. And then the fun begins. It is clear from the onset that Rosannah needs saving; what slowly begins to unravel however is that Henry needs saving as much as she does. This is a story about two strangers who become a refuge for each other deep in the heart of Alaska.
Both actors portray these characters with as much complexity and depth as one can within a 90-minute production. Linderman's energy is exhausting from the moment we meet her and she never lets up. She walks a fine line between being entertaining, vulnerable, and just plain grating incredibly well. The fact that she can speak as much and as fast as she does while still being able to elude all questions regarding her past speaks volumes about her character, and her ability to keep the audience wanting to know more. Because Linderman shares so much with the audience it becomes second nature for us to want someone, anyone to take care of her. In steps Warren's wonderfully awkward character Henry Harry. While at times Warren is so awkward it makes the audience uncomfortable, he plays the role of caregiver as if it were second nature. Showing a deep paternal nature by feeding and clothing Rosannah, the few instances of physical intimacy between the two feel more dangerous than out of the ordinary, but it was unclear if this was intentional on the part of the playwright, director, or actor. I found these moments to be unnecessary to the development of the story, however they do offer a glimpse into how very socially awkward Henry has become due to his hermit lifestyle.
Director Adam Fitzgerald keeps the play moving by staging these characters in such a way that the audience understands they are both trapped physically and emotionally in this snow storm. In his attempts to do something different within this single room set, his staging at times becomes a little gratuitous. Overall, he does a decent job at pulling the audience into the story through his overall conceit of the show, set up very nicely in the early montage type moments during Rosannah’s two day sleep sequence.
The star of the show, however, is the set design by David L. Arsenault. Upon first entering the space there seems to be nothing spectacular about the set. It’s a one-room studio-type setup, with bare walls, drab coloring, and very little content. As we begin to learn about Henry Harry and his hermit-type life, this set becomes increasingly appropriate. It is exactly what a you would think a middle-aged hermitish person who spends seven weeks on an oil rig and two weeks at home would live in: bare necessities, no frills, with low hanging beams, a mini fridge, and a twin sized bed. Arsenault’s set gives the actors just enough room to play while keeping it simple and confined.
Brilliant Traces is a dark look into the psyche of two lonely people, who want nothing more than to be alone, but are forced to find safety in complete strangers. Overall this production is a truly character driven piece highlighted by compelling directing and enlightened design elements.