Theatre of Consequence Stages Brilliant Traces

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Theatre of Consequence’s production of Cindy Lou Johnson’s Brilliant Traces ran August 24 – 27 in the Motel Theatre. Pictured: John McIver and Sienna Holden. Photo Credit: Lauren Hamm.

The thing about storms is that sometimes, they can roll in without any warning. That’s the case with runaway bride Rosannah DeLuce (Sienna Holden) in Cindy Lou Johnson’s Brilliant Traces.

Presented by Theatre of Consequence, Johnson’s Brilliant Traces stages a chance meeting between two lonely strangers who discover that they need each other more than they know. When her car breaks down in the middle of a blizzard, Rosannah seeks shelter in a cabin owned by Henry Harry (John McIver). Henry, wrapped in a blanket, has no time to ask questions as Rosannah, still in her wedding dress, begins to fall apart in front of him. She eventually passes out from exhaustion, as she has just driven all the way from Arizona.

After sleeping for two days, Rosannah awakes to find the storm has not yet passed. She is forced to stay with Henry in the cabin as a result.

Inside the cabin, designed by Troy Couillard, Rosannah and Henry talk about everything and nothing (like alien abductions). Rosannah fears she is indistinguishable, causing her to feel lost in the world. Henry, on the other hand, knows where he wants to be, alone. The isolation of the Alaskan wilderness is perfectly fine for Henry whose grief has caused him to retreat away from the world. He is reluctant, if not afraid, to care for someone again after experiencing loss.

Director Barrett Hileman paces the play in such a way that it doesn’t seem like the characters are waiting for their turn to speak or lay their troubles on the other person. Moments of pause and reflection punctuate Johnson’s sometimes long-winded dialogue, which helps ensure that the play’s wordy speeches are not thrown away or discarded so easily as confused, agitated speech. There is a sense of mutual need for understanding, even if the characters may not say so directly.

McIver delivers an engrossing, layered performance as Henry, a man who feels he is not worthy of love and attention. The conflict between Henry’s awakened sense of self-worth and the isolation he has committed himself to is shown to us marvelously by McIver whose facial expressions visibly process the difficulty of letting go and moving on. The actor is superb in the role of Henry.

Holden plays Rosannah with tremendous energy and discipline. She delivers her character’s speeches as if she were simultaneously challenging the universe and fearful of what it may say in response. There is vulnerability in her performance, as well as subdued anger and frustration that plays well with the stubbornness that McIver brings to Henry.

Couillard’s set is visually appealing, but the cabin seems just a bit too neat and orderly for a grieving person, especially one caught living the same painful scenario in his head again and again. Maybe Henry occupies himself by keeping a clean living space, who knows, but the cabin’s design does not convey any hint of emotional distress. Flashing lights (which run down long, plastic tubes) behind the cabin act as the stars of the northern sky, a nice visual element given that these characters help each other find their way again.

The intimacy of the Motel Theatre truly benefits Theatre of Consequence’s production of Brilliant Traces. This is an intimate piece about two people trying to make sense of where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going. The actors move and play with confidence in the space, giving a rich performance that makes the play’s ending land with impact.

This second production by Theatre of Consequence, one of Calgary’s newest theatre companies, is a great experience thanks to strong, nuanced performances and focused direction.

Theatre of Consequence’s production of Brilliant Traces by Cindy Lou Johnson ran August 24 – 27 at the Motel Theatre. 


Theatre of Consequence Makes Its Debut with Wagner’s The Monument

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Theatre of Consequence presents Colleen Wagner’s The Monument at the Motel Theatre, June 15 – 18. Pictured: Jonathan Molinski (Stetko) and Karen Johnson-Diamond (Mejra). Imaged provided by Theatre of Consequence.

Winner of the 1996 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, Colleen Wagner’s The Monument is a dramatic play about the nature of war, conflict, and justice. Although set in an unnamed country during an unspecified time, the distinctly Eastern European flavour of Wagner’s drama bears many similarities to the Bosnian Conflict (1992-95). What makes Wagner’s dramatic work so powerful, however, is its relevance today in Canada.

Presented by Theatre of Consequence at the Motel Theatre, The Monument tells the story of a soldier named Stetko (Jonathan Molinski), a young man set to be executed for his heinous crimes. Stetko is guilty of raping and murdering 23 women, all of whom he buried in a forest. While awaiting his execution, Stetko is offered reprieve by a local woman named Mejra (Karen Johnson-Diamond) who demands he obey her unconditionally for the rest of his life, otherwise he can die in prison. Stetko accepts Mejra’s offer, despite not knowing what her intentions are, and goes to live her.

Director Conrad Belau has added a third character, played by Caitlyn O’Connor, to Wagner’s two-person drama. The Girl is neither seen or directly addressed by the characters. She is an unseen, but unshakeable presence in the show. In one scene, O’Connor plays a large rock that Mejra wants dug up from the garden; in another, she is the pet rabbit that Steko comes to care for above himself. She comes and goes like a painful memory from the past.

For Wagner, war is not so black and white like a game of Chess. There are opposing sides, yes, but the pawns thrown into battle are everyday people. Stetko tells us that if he had disobeyed orders to join the army, he would have been labelled a sympathizer, and likely killed as a result. Stetko’s obedience to authority is what has kept him alive, but has also pushed him to commit unspeakable crimes, condemning him for life as a war criminal. And while he recognizes that he is a criminal, Steko also believes himself to be a victim of war. Before the war, he lived a normal life with his family and girlfriend, both of whom he loved, but then all that changed when he was drafted. 

Mejra has no sympathy for Stetko. In fact, she has no respect for him as a human being, going so far as to cutting off his ear and viciously beating him (fight choreography by John Knight). Knowing full well that the world will forget what happened in her country, Mejra seeks out justice for herself and her daughter, one of Stetko’s victims.

What is justice, though? There is justice as defined by the legal system, and then there’s justice as defined by the court of public opinion. The Jian Gohemshi trial showed us that these definitions of justice can arise simultaneously, but that they cannot co-exist without issue. Mejra sees justice for the murdered women as Stetko not only confessing to his crimes, but also helping her make sure that none of the murdered women are forgotten. She makes him dig up all the bodies that he buried in the forest and help build a monument in memory of the 23 murdered women.

Here, the monument is a patchwork of dresses that rises above the dirt where they were buried. The image immediately brings to mind The REDress Project, created by Jamie Black. The monument is Mejra’s answer to the indifference of global politics and systemic oppression that marginalizes violence against women. It is all that Mejra feels she can do as an average citizen.

For Mejra, this is only symbolic justice. She nearly murders Stetko before realizing that violence is not the answer. Stetko proposes forgiveness, that maybe he and Mejra can live together since neither one of them has anyone else. Wagner leaves the future uncertain.

Belau displays a strong understanding of Wagner’s play and its universality, regardless of its parallels to the Bosnian Conflict. It is clear that Belau knew exactly what he wanted this production to achieve and say about violence against women, and that sort of confidence is key to such an impactful and challenging text. The end result is, a thoughtful, well-staged production grounded in today’s headlines.

Molinski and O’Connor are two actors that really ought to be on everyone’s radar. The actors share this very disturbing scene where Molinski recalls in painstaking detail the final moments of his most memorable victim, played by O’Connor (with her hands tied by rope, suspended in the air). Molinski unleashes something very dark in the character as he tells Mejra, with sinister glee, everything about that night. O’Connor’s heartbreaking terror and helplessness makes us want to retreat away from this emotionally charged scene. It is a truly fearless and mature performance from both Molinski and O’Connor.

Johnson-Diamond ventures into vast emotional territory as a sorrow-stricken mother whose moral compass is confused after meeting Stetko. Her vengeance is motivated by immense hurt, and not so much a thirst for blood, which is important given the character’s arc. It is a steady performance punctuated by moments of sheer brutality that Johnson-Diamond plays very well.

Theatre of Consequence’s debut production is a must-see.

Theatre of Consequence’s production of Colleen Wagner’s The Monument runs June 15-18  at the Motel Theatre (Arts Commons).

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