Saturday, January 19, 2019

Brilliant Traces (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

A startlingly simple formula for writing a play:  Two or more characters are trapped with each others' company and nothing else.  Maybe they are the last people on Earth, or are in a single room in the afterlife, shipwrecked together on a desert island--it hardly matters.  What matters is the potential in the set-up.

For Brilliant Traces by Cindy Lou Johnson, the location is a cabin somewhere in Alaska during a white out.   Harry (Chris Cardano) lives here, a virtual hermit when he's not a cook at an oil rig.  Imagine his shock when someone starts banging on his front door, and a woman in a soaking wet, freezing wedding dress bursts into his home!  She does shut the door behind her, then deliriously insists she must have walked an hour from her car before collapsing in exhaustion.

Her name, we will learn, is Rosannah (Caitlin Carleton) and on reflection her car must be not too far away, not really.  After all, she's still alive.

She wakes up two days later, dry and under blankets, to find this stranger has made some soup to help warm her up--oh and if she goes outside while the storm continues, she will almost certainly die.  Everything will turn white, the sky become indistinguishable from the ground, even your own sense of herself will just blur out of existence.  Harry warns her.  Harry knows.

The two have a lot to share, albeit often reluctantly, as the play proceeds. 

Both come across as a cluster of paradoxes (I think most human beings do, but only good writers manage to capture that fact and good actors successfully portray it).  Harry seems too polite, too sociable to be a hermit.  He doesn't want her here, insists he did no more for her than he would a starving dog.   For all the brusqueness, though, and all the irritable courtesy, he really does seem both thrilled and terrified to have her here.  Likewise, she comes across as clearly intelligent, clearly able and insightful, yet spouts a lot of what sounds like gobbledegook.  She claims for example to not really be here.  Something happened to bring her to this place, and perhaps not surprisingly she views revealing it as akin to gum surgery.

Eventually, the question comes up about what brought Harry here as well.

Answers do emerge.  Those answers matter.  But even more compelling is what happens between these two strangers, as on some level they grow to recognize themselves within one another--and thus see themselves and each other anew.  Makes for an exciting, deeply moving theatre.

Plus it ends up very funny.   No, really, the weird things each of them say, and the reactions they give alone are just a delight.  Both in a real sense are not only ducks out of water, they seem like all sorts of different creatures, each totally removed from their natural environs.  Moles in the air, elephants at sea, camels on a glacier--take your pick.  Really, the effect proves not only hilarious but deeply illuminating--and not only to we the audience.  Not least because when you think about it, both of them must feel in danger.  Yet there's nowhere to go.  No one to help or flee from or run to save each other and themselves.

This marks the third director's effort I've seen by Kiff Scholl and every single time it hit a home run. Here we have another example of the same.  Highly recommended for all the passion, all the humor, all the feels, all the mysteries, and all the startling moments of beauty.

Brilliant Traces plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm until February 10, 2019 at the Lounge Theatre (just east of Vine) 6201 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood CA 90038.

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