Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Brown Box Theatre Project Presents "Brilliant Traces" by Cindy Lou Johnson - Through June 12th

Brown Box Theatre Project is currently presenting "Brilliant Traces" by Cindy Lou Johnson at the Atlantic Wharf performance space at 290 Congress Street.  It will run through this weekend, and then move on to three locations in Maryland. This organization exists to offer live theater to underserved populations, often turning public spaces into performance venues, and offering free admission.

The title of this play is drawn from a poem by Avah Pevlor Johnson that serves as a prelude to the script; it includes these lines:

"Let me dance with devils on dead stars.
Let my scars leave brilliant traces."

This two-hander deals with two individuals whose scars are exposed through the course of their forced encounter. Henry Harry (Spencer Parli Tew) works on an oil rig, and when not working, retreats 200 miles to his hermit's cabin in a desolate part of Alaska. He eschews contact with other human beings in part because of unhealed wounds from a personal tragedy. In the middle of a fierce blizzard, his isolation is broken by a desperate knock on his cabin door by Rosannah (Laura Menzie).  She has been driving mindlessly for days, have fled her wedding in Arizona.  Her car dies in the middle of nowhere in Alaska, and she finds Henry's cabin.

He does not want her there, and she does not want to be there, but circumstances have thrown them together, and they have to find ways to cope and to communicate while the blizzard continues to rage outside - and inside! When she tries to escape into the whiteout that prevails outside, he physically restrains her until she regains her senses, and realizes that it would be suicidal to go back outside in the storm. As they make small talk around tasks of cooking and staying warm, their individual scars and "traces" reveal themselves.  Rosannah has felt indistinguishable all of her life - having been lost in the whiteout of neglect on the part of her father. Henry has suffered an unspeakable loss, and he lives inside his mind in a continuous blizzard of recrimination and self-hatred.  The individual pathologies that these two human beings bring to this rustic cabin (beautifully designed by Ben Lieberson) result in often bizarre behavior, ranging from neurotic to bipolar to OCD.  Ms. Menzie and Mr. Parli Tew do an excellent job of portraying the wild swings of emotion that their characters exhibit.

Spencer Parli Tew as Henry
Laura Menzie as Rosannah
"Brilliant Traces"
by Cindy Lou Johnson
Brown Box Theatre Project
Through June 12th
The playwright seems to be asking the question, "Can two deeply flawed and scarred human beings find ways to move beyond their hurt and forge meaningful connections with each other?"  It is painful watching them try to individuate themselves in the midst of their personal whiteouts of mental confusion. The play, directed by Kyler Taustin, is a fascinating psychological study. Costume designer Chelsea Kerl has created costumes that have us believing that Rosannah has spent days in her besmeared and bedraggled wedding dress, and that Henry is as comfortable as can be in his frontier garb. Lighting is by Bridget Collins and Sound by Thomas Blanford.

There is a down side to Brown Box Theatre Project's choice to use public spaces for performance. The set has been built in the lobby of the office building at 290 Congress, but during performances, the space is still accessible to the public.  The dish room of the restaurant next door is separated from the performance space only by a thin curtain, and noises of rattling dishes and wait staff conversations often overwhelmed the speech of the actors.  In addition, children entering the lobby space were heard talking loudly at several points during the play.  I was not always able to discern whether sounds I was hearing were part of Mr. Blanford's brilliant soundscape, or whether they were bleeding in from external sources. My ADHD could not handle the external disruptions, and I found myself frequently so distracted that I felt like I missed the emotional impact that the play should have had for me. I am not sure how the production team can address these concerns, but they served to make the overall experience less than it should have been given the fine work being done by the actors and creative team.

The play will run this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are free, with donations being accepted after the performance.

Brown Box Tickets



No comments: