So what’s a man to do? You seek solitude in the wilds of Alaska, in a single-room cabin with no phone, and cocoon yourself in bed to ride out a blizzard so ferocious it is referred to as a “white-out” that destroys perspective and direction. Just as you are about to enter the arms of Morpheus, there comes a savage pounding on the door, the latch gives way, and standing in the center of the room, wrapped angelically in a wedding gown, is a young woman.
This is the first several seconds of Brilliant Traces, an extended one-act play now onstage in the brand-new Common Ground Theatre, just of Highway 70 West in northwest Durham. It is the inaugural play for the venue, a 60-seat intimate black-box theater whose first season is rapidly filling up. This show, presented by the just-as-new Self-Induced Theater Project, is the brainchild of SITP’s founder and artistic director Nicole Quenelle, who stars in the production. Having seen Cindy Lou Johnson’s plays Blesse and The Years, Quenelle has held onto the script for three years, waiting for the right time to produce the work. She had Lauren Walker (No Exit, Salomé, and Death and the Maiden) direct the show and chose actor Roman Pearah to complete her cast.
Quenelle plays Rosannah DeLuce, a woman barely within the outer reaches of her sanity, whose journey to this wasteland began in Arizona. Pearah plays Henry Harry, a man who left civilization for the solitude of his cabin and the rigors of working as a cook on an oil rig, 400 miles away. Their collision — and it can be referred to as little else — in these wilds seems at first cataclysmic, for neither wishes for the burden of the presence of the other.
Set Director Ann Meilahn creates this rustic oasis with bare necessities. There is a bed, a table with two chairs, a gas stove and a food pantry. There is no running water; heat and light, one must assume, come from a generator. Since Henry only lives here two weeks out of every eight, it is sufficient. The fact that it is exactly where it is has saved Rosannah’s life; had her car not broken down, or been buried under snow, she might still be driving. And had she not happened upon this home, she would surely have frozen to death. Her trials up until this point cause her to pass out only a few moments after her arrival, and she sleeps for two days.
Eventually, however, questions must be asked and answers given. The two are stuck with each other, and the only pastime seems to be to try to learn as much about the other as possible. But both are extremely reluctant to talk about themselves; and Rosannah is even belligerent, going so far as to sock Henry in the jaw with a mighty effective right cross.
Quenelle seems well-suited for this role, possessing the tempestuous nature of the redhead as well as the ability to portray the wounded soul that is buried underneath. Pearah matches her intensity, but burns within — he is a hermit who is suddenly thrust into a relationship, and he is lost. Each demands to know of the other the universal question, “Why,” but before any answers can be had, each of them must learn that they can only trace that path if they do so together.
Brilliant Traces, the name Johnson has chosen for this work, comes from a poem by Avah Pevlor Johnson, titled “Individuation.” The line in question reads “let my scars leave brilliant traces” and is most apropos, since it is the scars of these two that are the most evident signs of their characters.
Housed in the brand-new Common Ground Theater, located off U.S. 70 as one heads out of Durham towards Hillsborough, Brilliant Traces played to a full house Saturday night and wowed a diverse audience. The show only runs for three more performances, this Thursday thru Saturday at 8 p.m.
The Self-Induced Theater Project presents Brilliant Traces Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 20-22, at 8:15 p.m. at the Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $10. 919/522-3177 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Self-Induced Theater Project: http://www.selfinducedtheater.org/ [inactive 10/05].
The Self-Induced Theater Project’s inaugural production, Brilliant Traces by Cindy Lou Johnson, will play Jan. 13-22 at the new Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC. Lauren Walker will direct Roman Pearah and Nicole Quenelle in this dark two-character comedy about two people who meet entirely by chance — at night in the middle of a snowstorm in the Alaskan wilderness — and the lasting consequences that ensue when they are forced to share a very small space.
Walker says, “The play is a long one-act, and runs an hour and a half with no intermission.… Nicole Quenelle brought this play to my attention, as I was not familiar with it. It is a piece she had held close to her heart for some time, just waiting for the right circumstances to produce it.”
Walker explains, “Brilliant Traces is so rich with intense emotions. It is a stripped-down examination of two very different people with very different damage to their hearts. It is a snow-globe of theatricality: we discover two people brought together by mere circumstance and enclosed into a small room. When the globe is shaken by their encounter, we can only watch as pieces fall back into place — but not quite where they started.
"I personally wanted to be involved in this production,” Walker admits, “for the opportunity to work in a very intimate environment. With just two actors, we saw the chance for a nontraditional approach to staging this show.
"We used movement, improv, Meisner, Rolfing, developmental movements, and anything any one of us brought to the table to further explore who these two souls are and what their world is like,” Walker adds. “And when I say we, I mean myself, the stage manager, and both the actors. No one was exempt from the exercises, which helped to create a very honest and safe environment of shared experiences.”
Lauren Walker says, “The story is simple. Rosannah (Nicole Quenelle) explodes into Henry’s (Roman Pearah) Alaskan cabin during a blizzard in the middle of the night. She then passes out for two whole days, during which Henry feeds and watches out for this strange visitor. When she wakes, the audience sees two people battle to control the effect they have on each other, and struggle to understand who they are.
In addition to director Lauren Walker, the show’s production team includes set designer Ann Meilahn, lighting designer Steve Tell, sound designers Nicole Quenelle, Roman Pearah, and Kit Wienart, fight choreographer Scott Franco, and movement coach Toby Matthews.
Lauren Walker notes that the show’s set is “a rustic cabin with its walls suggested by free-hanging windows and a corrugated tin roof,” its lighting varies from “from moonlight to a snowy day,” and its costumes include “a wedding dress that has seen better days and the clothes of a man who wishes to be invisible.”
She claims, “This is a production of firsts. It is the first production of the Self-Induced Theater Project. The artistic director, producer, and co-star of the play are the same person (Nicole Quenelle). It is the first production in the new Common Ground Theatre space in Durham, a fantastic new facility that we are honored to inaugurate. And it is the first time any of us have worked in such a collaborative environment, implementing such varied methods and techniques early on in our process.”
The Self-Induced Theater Project presents Brilliant Traces Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 13-15, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 16, at 3:15 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 20-22, at 8:15 p.m. at the Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $10. 919/522-3177 or email@example.com. Self-Induced Theater Project: http://www.selfinducedtheater.org/ [inactive 10/05].