Sometimes, one thing earns something else altogether. Through exploration of alienation, one group of dramatic professionals is hoping to bring not just fans but Mobile’s theater community together.
“What we don’t want to do is come in and say, ‘we’re the new big thing.’ We’re much more interested in promoting the theater community,” Christopher Peck said.
The University of South Alabama drama professor was in the midst of a discussion following a preview of Makalani Theatre Ensemble’s new production of “Brilliant Traces.” The company is the brainchild of Peck and Keone Fuqua, an instructor at both South Alabama and the University of Mobile.
Both men have critical roles in this first work. Fuqua is one of its two actors and Peck directs.
Their goal for the company is both modest and ambitious. They’ll have one full production in early summer and maybe staged readings in the winter. They also hope to be Mobile’s rare foray into professional theater, pairing with theater honors society Alpha Psi Omega in finding funding.
“This is also a nice venue for new play development,” Peck said, nodding to the black box theater in USA’s Laidlaw Performing Arts Center. He hopes original work becomes a staple, cultivating burgeoning talent.
For now, the choice of Cindy Lou Johnson’s play is no accident. Fuqua worked in it some 12 years back when he was a student at South Alabama. He felt like this time around the additional decade of life experience gave him more to draw from in fleshing out his character’s motivations.
His co-star, USA alum Charity Sills said it was her first go at the work. She returned to Mobile for the production as she’s currently a West Coast resident in pursuit of her film career.
A 90-minute, one-act play about alienation and the turmoil of human connection, the title is derived from an Avah Pevlor Johnson poem entitled “Individuation”: “Let my scars leave brilliant traces, / for my highborn soul seeks its hell– / in high places.”
The work opens with a man asleep in an isolated Alaskan cabin when his slumber is shattered by a pounding on his door and the energetic entrance of a young woman in a soiled bridal gown. A brief spell of histrionics, a couple of slugs of whiskey and she’s off for a couple of days’ doze, broken only once by a delirious statement.
Once she awakens the mutual interrogation begins. She is Rosannah DeLuca, a runaway bride who wandered 3,000 miles from her nuptials and envisions herself disembodied.
The cabin owner is Henry Harry, an oil rig worker whose brief time ashore is spent in wilderness solitude. It’s the ghosts of his past that follow him there, though.
The cozy setting – theater in the round, seating about 60 – is perfect for this work about strained interpersonal intimacies. Every minute flash of emotion or flicker of thought across the actors’ faces is visible.
The minimal set is perfect: just enough for suggestion. Together with the sound design, the illusion is complete.
While it starts a bit slow, the actors hit their stride as the intensity increases. Fuqua in particular seems to find another layer of texture when he begins to discuss the whiteout conditions outside the cabin.
It’s not bogged down with gravity. Fuqua’s on-spot spit take is a nice example of the humor running through the production.
The only problems Artifice had don’t originate with the theater company but more with the playwright. At times, Johnson’s dialogue edges on redundancy and her characters seem more intent on raging at each other than understanding the situation.
When Rosannah seemingly talks of the depth of love for another possessing every corpuscle of the body, every atom of being, it verges on triteness. Co-dependence disguised as romantic swoon is too culturally abundant and it threatened the relationship with the character. The author salvages things when Rosannah later delves into a parental trauma and completely recasts those earlier statements.
If you’re a true fan of theater, whether by attendance or participation, if you want to see this town explore avenues heretofore unseen, your attendance is a must. The modest capacity means the grand total of all four performances will only reach what one full house at Mobile Theatre Guild would equal.
Don’t get left out in the cold. This cabin’s warm enough for more than two.
Brilliant Traces runs June 5 – 8. Evening performances are at 8 p. m. Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door, $12 for students and military. They may be purchased at Laidlaw Performing Arts Center Room #1042 Monday – Friday, 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. or order online through Brown Paper Tickets at http://bpt.me/702625. There is an additional handling fee for online sales.
Visit their Makalani Theatre Ensemble’s Facebook page or email them at [email protected].