What is trauma? How do we begin to heal from the pain inflicted upon us, and how do we rise to care for others in a world and place of selflessness and humanity? In gorgeous strokes of empathy and intimacy, Brown Box Theatre Project presents the poetic and deeply personal Brilliant Traces at the Atlantic Wharf in Boston before continuing its run on its tour to Maryland (Oxford, Salisbury, and Ocean City). Driven by the strength of Cindy Lou Johnson’s tight script, Director Kyler Taustin and his talented cast of Laura Menzie and Spencer Parli Tew perform a surprisingly invigorating production in its tenderness, questioning, and thought-provoking story of how we face our scars that leave brilliant traces and the cathartic ways that we move on with the help of others.
Beginning with a chilling entrance, Brilliant Traces opens with Henry Harry (stoically played by a warm Spencer Parli Tew) returning to his Alaskan retreat, a humble hovel, and huddling for warmth in his bed. He is awoken by the arrival of a stranger from a strange land, Rosannah (played with brilliant awareness and commitment by Laura Menzie), attired in her bridal gown, captivating in her manic energy from surviving her car stalling in the Alaskan wilderness. And, here, the poetic and magical surrealism meet reality, as the juxtaposition of a runaway bride suffering from a deep-seeded loneliness and sullen lumberjack licking his wounds form an unlikely relationship. The tender exploration of the unfolding of their stories, the nuanced dance between them, and the exposure of their scars made for a gorgeous night at the theatre.
The play whispers of dreams and speaks in the howls of the wind, expertly designed by Sound Designer Thomas Blanford, played out on the resourceful set by Scenic Designer Ben Lieberson (the adaptability of which makes it pleasing to the eye and capable of being easily transported to Maryland for their tour). The poem, “Individuation” by Avah Pevlor Johnson, provides a haunting prelude to the play’s action and shapes our understanding of the dream-like flow. The incorporation of a dance-like transition and fluidity throughout the play comes organically from the poem’s line: “Let me dance with devils on dead stars.” From the stripping of the wedding dress to the feeding of soup to the play’s transcending conclusion, the play moves in dance-like forms and with remarkable grace. Tew and Menzie negotiate their relationships with starts and stops, moving together and away from each other, orchestrated by some of Director Kyler Taustin’s most authentic and captivating direction. Rosannah and Henry Harry are both aware and unaware of their emotions and feelings, making what they say and omit even more telling and distinguishable. Sometimes, the audience is more aware of the inner frustration, loneliness, protectiveness, and anger of the characters, but, often, these characters surprise us with inner turmoil, isolated remarks of consciousness and clarity, and a glowing empathy for how we care for ourselves and others.
The location is, as always, a continued struggle. While Brown Box Theatre Project continues to earn substantial accolades for bringing affordable and accessible theatre to an otherwise remote location in the Atlantic Wharf, the venue has some sound issues from the surrounding activities. The night that I attended was better than other occasions in this venue, but still had isolated noises. The lighting, while superb in its execution and design, suffered from not quite focusing the action enough on the remote cabin in the woods, and I found my eye wandering at times to the other events and movement in the venue. These issues are easily overcome in this particular production because of the strength of the acting, direction, and other design elements, but still gave me momentary pauses throughout the play’s tight, intermission-less performance.
If you like your theatre with gorgeous poetic charm, empathetic and cathartic realism, and a glowing wonder for the possibilities of finding ourselves and others in the face of pain and regret, you will love Brilliant Traces. When we seek others and open our hearts and minds to understanding and pushing past differences, the possibilities for growth and healing from our scars seem tangible and worthwhile. This production is worth our time and energy, and I only wish that I had stayed to discuss the touching beauty of Brilliant Traces with these talented actors and designers.
Brilliant Traces runs at the Atlantic Wharf in Boston now until Sunday, June 12, 2016. All performances are free with strongly recommended ticket reservations available here: http://www.brownboxtheatre.org/traces.html. Brown Box Theatre Project continues its performances in Maryland from June 16 to 20.