By Cindy Lou Johnson
Directed by Trent Baker
With Kate Cole & Vincent Miller
Lighting by Dans Sheehan
Brilliant Traces (June 12 – July 7, 2002) –Helen Thompson, The Age 18-Jun-02
One of the strengths of the Red Stitch Actors Theatre, presenting its sixth production in six months, is its repertoire of plays that are challenging, contemporary and just off-centre.
Cindy Lou Johnson’s play, Brilliant Traces, is a 90-minute, one-act, two-hander that would not quite fit the established parameters of mainstream theatre. Yet it is an intense, compelling work, very much an actors’ piece, its spare dialogue and confined action requiring acting of a high order to raise the emotional temperature to boiling point.
Director Trent Baker has achieved remarkable effects, and the performances from Vincent Miller and Kate Cole are extraordinarily good. And, in the 40-seat black box at 80 Inkerman Street, there is an almost intimidating intimacy between actors and audience.
The play has a wonderfully dramatic opening, when a woman in bedraggled wedding finery bursts into a remote Alaskan cabin, fleeing a snowstorm. The mystery deepens when, after a few largely incoherent words to the room’s occupant, she falls asleep for two days. He is only moved to emotion when he inexplicably sobs over her discarded wedding shoes.
Faint literary overtones of fairy stories involving dancing shoes are displaced by the emergence of the story behind these two people, Roseannah Deluce (Kate Cole) and Henry Harry (Vince Miller).
Their stories are almost as improbable as their meeting. Both are traumatized, Roseannah by a simple incident at the door of the church in Arizona where she was about to be married, Henry by the death of the child he loved. But neither story emerges easily, or even coherently, from these emotionally damaged people.
Johnson seems almost to be exploring some version of chaos theory in this play. It does not progress or develop in any orderly way. Rather, this pair are like atoms randomly colliding, their encounters sometimes angry, at other times pitiful, even loving, but always confined within the simple wooden cabin.
It ends without any definite resolution, but with at least a deepening of understanding of themselves. Roseannah’s experience, in particular, almost defies description; it is an out-of-body severing from the ordinary world. Henry’s revelations, in comparison, seem almost banal. The challenge to both actors is to convey the intensity of their emotions despite the inhibitions these feelings impose upon their attempts to communicate.
Cole’s wonderfully mobile face is a powerful mode of expression. Miller’s tightly coiled body language conveys Henry’s tense battle to control despair and hopelessness. Together they sustain an incredibly intense emotional landscape producing memorable performances in a powerful and haunting play.