Content note: Brilliant Traces includes mature themes and simulated violence.
Ad Astra have transformed their black box theatre in Fortitude Valley into an Alaskan cabin for Cindy Lou Johnson’s Brilliant Traces. Directed by Fiona Kennedy, with production consultation by Leonard Meenach, this is an intense and engaging two-hander exploring love and loss, guilt and grief.
Henry Harry lives a quiet life, alone in his cabin in a remote part of Alaska, until a distraught young woman, Rosannah Deluce, bursts out of the blizzard and into his home one night, dressed for her wedding. The two are stuck with each other, at least until the storm ends. There is nowhere to hide in the small cabin, from each other or from themselves, and the audience sits with the characters in this awkward and vulnerable space as they move from small talk and polite enquiries to slowly unravel their pasts, tell their secrets, and discover what they are both really running from.
As Kennedy’s Director’s Note explains, the title of the play is drawn from a poem by the playwright’s mother, Avah Pevlor Johnson, titled Individuation:
If I must be wrung through the paradox,
—broken into wholeness,
wring me around the moon;
pelt me with particles from the dark side.
Fling me into space;
hide me in a black hole.
Let me dance with devils on dead stars.
Let my scars leave brilliant traces,
for my highborn soul seeks its hell—
in high places.
Johnson’s script is poetic, and the cosmic imagery of this poem is consistent throughout the play, but it would have been satisfying to have the title linked more clearly to the action of the work.
The dialogue of Brilliant Traces is filled with recurring motifs, revealing new layers of meaning with each repetition, and the power between Henry and Rosannah shifted seamlessly back and forth as the play progressed – this is a credit to the actors and director, as much as to the writer. Silences were used to great effect in this production, from the very first scene, and the tension was masterfully built and released throughout.
Kyle McCallion and Vanessa Moltzen were a dynamic duo as Henry Harry and Rosannah Deluce. Both delivering outstanding and emotive performances, and their onstage chemistry was sensational. Well-matched, the actors skilfully managed the rapid-fire dialogue, a wide array of props, and some highly physical blocking. Their American accents were appropriately distinct from one another and remained consistent throughout.
The attention to detail in the Brilliant Traces set, which was designed and built by Dan & Fiona Kennedy with consultation by Bill Haycock, was extraordinary – from the frosted panes of glass in the window to the glowing fire and the blizzard beyond the doorway. Sound design by Theo Bourgoin conjured the raging snowstorm outside the cabin, and lighting design by B’Elanna Hill emphasised the mood and the progression of time.
Ad Astra’s Brilliant Traces is an intense and moving two-person drama, brilliantly performed, and balanced with surprising moments of tenderness and humour.
Brilliant Traces will play at Ad Astra, Fortitude Valley, from 16 June – 8 July 2022.