Brilliant Traces (Ad Astra)
June 16 – July 8
One of things that continues to impress about Ad Astra shows is the versatility of the company’s staging in terms of audience reorientation and overall aesthetics. In the case of Cindy Lou Johnson’s critically acclaimed “Brilliant Traces”, this is realised in the creation of the remote Alaskan hut that becomes the sole location of action in the intimate two-hander.
As if the pre-show Violin Concerto of Vivaldi’s “Winter” is not enough, stage design (Bill Haycock working with Fiona Kennedy) establishes a clear sensibility. Sparseness is punctuated by important details like fishing apparatus, a small frosted window and a lone pair of gumboots. We feel the isolation before a word is even spoken and when it is, this is further enhanced by an evocative (but not overbearing) soundscape of outside swirling winter winds (Sound Design by Theo Bourgoin). Inside, however, the blackout of the show’s first moments is warmed only by the inviting light of a pot-belly-esque wood-fired stove. It’s a cosiness that is soon contrasted, however, by the literal and metaphorical blizzard that blows in to the cabin as a distraught Rosannah DeLuce (Vanessa Moltzen) blusters through the door.
Rosannah has driven from Arizona in flee from her wedding, that is until a ‘white out’ blizzard forces everyone into isolation. Likeable oil rig worker Henry Harry (Kyle McCallion) is a sad and lonely figure. We learn this despite him not speaking until well into the 80-minute (no interval) work’s first act, which serves as a testament to McCallion’s skill. And when he does speak, after the physically and emptionally exhausted Rosannah has slept for two days, there is a trepidation that hints as to his own fragility, such is the nuance of McCallion’s performance.
This is a play that showcases the skill of the two actors as, in the confined cabin space, they bounce back and forth in bravado and then honest vulnerability that highlights their fated commonality in seek of emotional safety. And Moltzen does well to bring humour and humanity to the demanding role of a damaged but exhausting character who tells of some selfish choices on way to her personal crisis. The hyperbole of her stream of consciousness introductory monologue, for instance, is tempered with some relatable reflections of self.
Both performers are on stage for the entire play, during which time they take us on a tumultuous emotional journey as the two lost souls try to find their way back to life in attempt to become whole again. The result of this sustainment is an intense piece, tightly directed by Fiona Kennedy to emphasise its drama, yet also infused with some humour along with symbolic call-backs and a metaphoric thematic exploration that gives us hope that even seemingly-unbearable lives can be lived. Indeed, “Brilliant Traces” is a complex and layered work, full of imagery in its multifaceted examination of the role and result of isolation in life’s journeys, and conclusions about the humanity at the core of compassion.