Searching for Brilliant Traces 

Boise Contemporary Theater opens its 2007-2008 season

Boise Contemporary Theater opened its season with Cindy Lou Johnson's Brilliant Traces, for which the poem "Individuation" by Avah Pevlor Johnson is cited as inspiration for the title: "Let me dance with devils on dead stars. / Let my scars leave brilliant traces, / For my highborn soul seeks its hell—In high places."

The story is one of a runaway bride—in full dress—who stumbles into an isolated cabin in the Alaska wilderness where the man who lives there lies sleeping. The man wakes up to find this bride in his house, and the audience plays witness as the chaos unfolds.

Watching two strangers interact in a cabin in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of nowhere could be a) entertaining; b) humorous; c) edgy; d) disturbing; e) all of the above. It appears that Johnson was aiming for e) all of the above. For me, it was c) edgy and d) disturbing. Both characters are clearly disturbed, and as the heroine would have it, the rest of the population is sleeping through the great disturbance we call life. Her discovery of that notion is the impetus for her flight.

The heroine, Rosannah DeLuce, is played by Sara M. Bruner. A program note from artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark—who plays the lead male role—states that the play was "chosen specifically" for Bruner. I applaud BCT for not playing it safe. They choose new and interesting plays, and Boise is lucky to have BCT as part of its community. It's also great to see Bruner on stage. Most well-known for her work with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, it will be wonderful to see her acting regularly with BCT. Bruner is a great actor, but I don't think Brilliant Traces settled into the heat of the drama soon enough to benefit from Bruner's acting prowess. The first half of the play is given to dialogue that left half the audience cautiously laughing and half the audience waiting for the action to begin. Rosannah is unhinged, but it really isn't funny. This is like the case of "it's not you, it's me, " only this time, "it's not the acting, it's the writing."

Though Brilliant Traces might have been chosen specifically for Bruner, it offers a strong complementary role for Clark as well. He plays the Alaskan mountain man, Henry Harry. The character's name is offered up in a line which is presumably supposed to be funny, but the weak comic relief it brings is not only unnecessary to the unfolding drama, it is a distraction. In contrast to this silly denouement, the audience is introduced early to an unusual and beguiling tenderness of this recluse as he respectfully and tenderly washes the dirt off of the sleeping Rosannah, after she faints. This moment gives the audience a telling glimpse into Henry's true nature. When he prepares a pot of soup for her and sets the table—complete with placemat—we know that though this man may live isolated in the woods, he probably did not grow up there. He describes himself as unsocial but has what could be called very good social graces. And actions speak louder than words.

Oh that Rosannah were given such an opportunity. She feels loosely tethered to the world, and this is evidenced by her continual whirling throughout the small cabin and speaking at full volume, as if she were coming to us from another planet. In fairness to the character, she does not really believe she is present, only hovering, so perhaps she compensates by shouting. Unfortunately, Henry soon begins shouting as well. After about 60 minutes of the ranting, we get to the crux of their pain and the good part of the play. But just as they break through, revealing what is behind their behavior, the audience warming up to them, the play ends ... ripe for a sequel were this a Hollywood movie.

The set design by Michael Baltzell is ideal, though the paint-stained sink in an otherwise tidy cabin is a curiosity. I think Henry Harry would do something about that.

I wonder if the director, Tracy Sunderland, ever had the urge to say, "Let's tone it down a bit?" I would love to see it toned down a bit. Forget going for laughs, and play it dead straight; but then again, maybe it's not only "not the acting" and "not the directing" but "the writing."

Brilliant Traces runs through Nov. 3. Visit BCTheater.org for times and ticket prices. Boise Contemporary Theater, 854 Fulton St., 208-331-9224.

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