January 5, 2020
Riveting ‘Brilliant Traces’ is a gem that touches the soul
By John Busbee for The Culture Buzz
Brilliant Traces is the newest offering from TheatreMidwest, giving its audiences a strong sense of artistic anticipation for things to come. This production had its audience spellbound, and TheatreMidwest’s brain trust is proving that there is a special niche in Central Iowa for such thoughtfully selected and masterfully delivered theatre fare. This script provided rich content for an exceptional duo, delivering a sophisticated, marvelously textured and nuanced performance experience.
This show’s director and sound designer, Tom Woldt, brings a special understanding to content selection for TheatreMidwest as its Artistic Director. Its mission is “creating works of relevance to the people of the Midwestern North America, with particular attention to the works of women and other under-represented groups.” Brilliant Traces creates an irresistible encore to last spring’s debut show, The Friendly Hour. Playwright Cindy Lou Johnson’s show was first produced by Circle Repertory Company at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Brilliant Traces is a cerebral and visceral exploration of two strangers meeting under extreme circumstances. The forlorn sounds of blizzard winds are broken by an off-stage, desperate plea for help as a disheveled Rosannah DeLuce pounds her way into the isolated cabin of Henry Harry. She is in a wedding gown. In the middle of an epic Alaskan blizzard. To share much more of the story would be to deprive future audiences of fully quenching their aesthetic thirst for this fine wine of theatricality.
Jami Bassman Ahart infuses her Rosannah with the complexity of a human junk drawer. She is filled with a tumble, ramble of items that cannot be tossed away, have some perceived future use, or are valued bits and pieces of her past. She is vulnerable, she is strong. Her performance is immensely appealing, as Rosannah’s life layers are slowly peeled away to reveal hidden, protected inner truths. She is artfully matched by the isolation-cherishing Henry, although their initial interactions exchanges forewarn seeming incompatibility. Tom Ahart’s Henry looms inside the cabin with a palpable translucence, as if he is trying to take his hermitage to an other-worldly level. Rosannah’s intrusion jars his coveted isolation, forcing him to cope with this an unintended visitor.
Add Julia Franklin’s evocative design and Chris Hanian’s lighting, enhanced by Woldt’s masterfully haunting sound design, and this becomes a rewarding immersion into the meeting of two imperfect souls sorting out this time of reckoning. Franklin’s spare, representational setting creates a space appropriately askew for this soul-stripping encounter. The use of the two chairs, the small table and the spartan bed become chess pieces in this encounter of two wary opponents retaining a civility that slowly gets peeled away as the forced confinement of their situation pushes them to reluctantly reveal bits and pieces of themselves to each other. These performances are the mesmerizing stuff that great theatre is made of.
Brilliant Traces provides the scripted framework in which two brilliant actors, the real-life wife-husband duo of Jami Bassman Ahart and Tom Ahart, share Johnson’s magnificent play with audiences savvy enough to experience the kind of theatre one would expect to find on the professional small stages in a New York City or Chicago. This show will be the topic of many post-run conversations, for its overall production values and its impactful artistry. To miss it would be a shame, so don’t be left out in the cold. Instead, become the fly on the cabin’s wall and savor every wonderful nuance, interaction and development that Brilliant Traces delivers.
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