Unexpected visitor becomes more in UNO Theatre’s “Brilliant Traces”

Graduate student Lara Marsh directs “Brilliant Traces,” a play about an unexpected arrival changing lives forever. Photo by Danielle Lara Marsh

By Danielle Meadows

A knock on the door of a secluded cabin changes the lives of a lonely man and a runaway bride in UNO Theatre’s upcoming production.

Directed by theater graduate student Lara Marsh, “Brilliant Traces” opens this week.The story is about a woman,Rosannah DeLuce (played by Megyn O’Doherty), who flees Arizona to avoid her impending marriage.She finds herself in Alaska, looking to escape civilization. Dressed in full bridal regalia, she discovers a remote cabin in the wilderness during a raging blizzard.

The distraught young woman knocks insistently on the door of the cabin, home to Henry Harry (played by Timothy Mantil). Henry Wakes up from the sound, surprised when such an unexpected person bursts into the cabin. Rosanna exhaustedly throws herself onto Henry’s mercy—but after sleeping for two days straight, her vigor and combativeness return.

Characters in “Brilliant Traces” are wounded and made bitter by life—so much so that they confine themselves to the cabin to avoid others. Rosannah and Henry Repel and attract throughout the play as their isolation brings them closer. Examining the pain of their pasts, the pair eventually consider the possibilities of the present—but only through hard-won understanding, self-awareness and sympathy.

Graduate student and director Marsh was originally attracted to this play as an undergrad. She discovered in an acting class, appreciating its quirky complexity. From that point, she knew she wanted to direct “Brilliant Traces” someday.

“Now that I’m back for my graduate degree in directing, I’ve been reading and re-reading scripts for various projects,” said Marsh. “Cindy Lou Johnson’s script jumped out at me as I was exploring, and I thought ‘this is the time.’”

The two-person cast and Marsh meet four to five hours each rehearsal. The longer hours prove to be an advantage, getting a lot accomplished at once and driving the process forward at a pace coinciding with the script. The play is acted through partial realism and partial miming. Through rehearsing, the group has made sure to attack both approaches in a way that blends together.

Dealing with so much truth from the characters in such an intimate space has been the most difficult part of the rehearsal process for Marsh. She said the show is in a space that is only roughly 15 feet by 18 feet, with the audience right in front of the actors in the shape of an “L”.

“This is challenging for an actor to be so vulnerable when the audience is so close, as opposed to being up on a stage where lights blind the actors from seeing the audience,” said Marsh. “The intimacy is ever-present and ever-constant, not allowing the actors to let their guard down at any moment.”

Marsh has seen the cast grow throughout rehearsals, helping and watching as they’ve become more comfortable with vulnerability and miming. She has enjoyed seeing the cast explore possibilities as their characters to expand on their craft.

“This is always a delight for the director,” said Marsh.“When the actors are open to presenting other humans, they find a bit more humanity in themselves.”

Timothy Mantil (Henry) enjoys Marsh’s approaches to directing. “Brilliant Traces”is the first time the two have worked together. Mantil said Marsh knew her vision from the get-go but doesn’t force that vision upon the actors. When something doesn’t work, Marsh will pull one actor to the side and make a suggestion without informing the other actor—so they aren’t just acting, but reacting as well.

“She’s a very hands-on director—very much in the trenches with us,” said Mantil.

“Brilliant Traces” is Mantil’s first two-person play. He finds a smaller cast to be much more personal and dialogue-focused, having to depend heavily on each other to keep things going. A cast of two means that it’s a different form of memorization—it’s not like a traditional play where actors can memorize scene by scene and wait on certain cues. “Brilliant Traces” is a very realistic piece, much like watching two hours from someone’s life.

Mantil sees some of himself in Henry, making it easier for him to get into character.

“He does have a lot of mannerisms I have. There’s a place for everything—he has his own organization—and if it gets thrown off, it throws off his entire day,” he said. “He’s almost as sarcastic as I am. Not quite, but pretty close.”

“Brilliant Traces” runs Feb.8-10 in room 006 of the Weber Fine Arts building. All shows are free and open to the public. Optional donations will be collected for theater students traveling to London in the summer.