Truth In Truisms 

Sometimes a play makes you want to run right home, find everyone you love, and hold on to them as tightly as you can until you pass out from exhaustion

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Emily Spicer and David Alford as Jennifer Wilbanks and Grizzly Adams in Brilliant Traces.
Brilliant Traces
8pm Fri, 7pm Sat, 2:30pm Sun
Through Dec 3
$20 general; $18 senior, military; $12 student
San Pedro Playhouse Cellar
800 W. Ashby
733-7258
Sanpedroplayhouse.com
Sometimes a play makes you want to run right home, find everyone you love, and hold on to them as tightly as you can until you pass out from exhaustion. It haunts your dreams and waking hours and, if it is in any way merciful, gives you at least some tiny speck of light to keep you going. Brilliant Traces is that kind of play.

It would be easy to dismiss the play’s premise: two people thrown together by chance learn something about each other and themselves. It’s all been done before in countless other ways, some better, many worse — much, much worse. (If I had a nickel for every play about an Alaskan hermit whose solitude is broken by the appearance of a runaway bride … ) Cindy Lou Johnson’s Brilliant Traces has many clichéd elements that could have, in different hands, driven it into the realm of saccharine and sleeping pills. It would be easier still to go through the first half of the play believing that it’s a comedy and never really feel the tonal shift that occurs when the characters’ mysteries are revealed. But the San Pedro Playhouse production directed by Eva Laporte balances exquisitely the humor and the drama of this unlikely story. The result is a reasonably good play, incredibly well-executed.

David Alford as the reclusive Henry Harry is befuddled, gruff, passionate, tender, and always believable. Emily Spicer as runaway bride Rosannah Deluce glides gracefully from frenetic comedy to emotional depth with heartbreaking ease. It’s hard to combine rage, fear, love, sadness, and comic timing — but Spicer proves that it’s not impossible. Together, these two actors create a relationship full of tension, sometimes comic, sometimes poignant, and always interesting to watch. Spicer’s histrionic explosion in the opening scene is worth the price of admission on its own, and Alford manages to develop a character in his first scene without ever saying a word.

Credit is due to Laporte’s skilled direction, which saves the play from its worst possible excesses. Johnson’s script breaks the tension a few too many times with a few too many running gags that make the rising action somewhat choppy. But Laporte’s attention to detail, combined with Alford and Spicer’s flexible acting, keep the comedy from overwhelming the emotional resonance, all while using the comic breaks to keep the play from slipping into a maudlin weep-fest.

Allan Ross’s set embodies the warmth of the cabin and the blizzard outside with remarkable effectiveness and the lighting and sound (by Ashley-Beth Draffan and Rick Malone, respectively) are well-managed and unobtrusive. While the fixtures do help give the play a touch of reality (I really liked the working water pump.) they would be just some pretty scenery and props without the capable work of the actors and the director.

In the end, Johnson gets the situation and the characters right and Laporte interprets these to maximum effect. Henry and Rosannah are each broken in different ways and the play consists of the slow revelation of the tremors that have left them shattered. They (and we) find no easy answers, just someone to hold on to, and a little bit of warmth in a cold world. And in a world where you can lose everything, suddenly or just bit by bit, Brilliant Traces is a good reminder that there’s some comfort in holding on to a piece of the light before you sink into the cold night.

More by William M. Razavi

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