Actors Theatre Traces Brilliance
I’M A PERSON in serious trouble,” says Rosannah, lurching road-drunk around the small, messy perimeter of a snowbound Alaskan cabin. Dressed only in a filthy wedding dress, barefoot after ruining her nuptial slippers by walking miles through a storm, having driven God knows how many miles, subsisting solely on candy bars and Coke, Rosannah is not understating her case.
Bursting into Henry’s snow-shrouded home, found by its light as her only salvation in the blankness of a blizzard, Rosannah (Jill Wehrer) speaks and weeps and passes out, all while Henry (Brad Thomsen) cowers in amazement beneath a blanket. While she sleeps, Henry undresses and bathes her with the sweetness of a parent, guards her sleep, and steels himself to meet her when she awakens.
Playwright Cindy Lou Johnson’s intelligent Brilliant Traces–playing at Actors Theatre through June 28–illuminates in two acts a time caught in the middle of the trouble that is life. Henry is a loner, a chef on an oil rig who spends his off-weeks in the harshest landlubber isolation he can find. Rosannah is unmoored: floating, a bride who simply took five steps backwards on her wedding day and found herself unsteadily outside the chapel door, then in the car, and then so strangely in Alaska.
Full of ellipitical language and poetic imagery–as well as a few good belly laughs–Brilliant Traces flares like a northern light on Rosannah and Henry’s lives only to fade as quickly, leaving the audience with the real-time remembrance that no one can ever know everything about another. In fact, it’s the small secretions of knowledge and the slowness of their drawing out that form the entire second half of this seamless production.
Wehrer and Thomsen have their work cut out for them in the intimate sphere of this play; there is little to distract from the sound of their voices and the lives that they briefly project onto the stage. Disheveled and wet, Wehrer has some unnecessarily actress-y moments at the play’s beginning, but soon settles into a believable groove. Save for the constant workings of her hands in her hair, Wehrer’s composure and focus create a believable form from the playwright’s words.
Thomsen’s Henry is the more enigmatic character, and Thomsen has Henry so close as to offer a glimpse of what could really be done with the part, given more rehearsal time. He handles the revelation of Henry’s chosen hermitage with a controlled grace that saves the play from falling, like a brick wall on a kitten, into pathos.
Director Celeste Thomas makes some gorgeous choices in this production, most notably the scene of Henry bathing Rosannah’s sleeping beauty. She floats on a cot, voluptuous and lost while Henry so tenderly dampens her clean. In this scene–erotic, yet lacking the sharp dark ferocity that can come with sexuality–Thomas manages to convey as much about love as the playwright does through an hour and a half of talk.
While Johnson ends her play abruptly, slamming the lights off on these traces of brilliance, the cast conspires to guillotine it further, speeding up the finale so that one is unprepared for the last words so rapidly spoken before Rosannah and Henry are Wehrer and Thomsen, taking their bows.
Their abrupt departure forgiven, the characters in Brilliant Traces glow beyond their time on the stage.
Brilliant Traces plays Thursday-Sunday through June 28. Actors Theatre, Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $6-$12. 523-4185.
From the June 12-18, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.