Cabin fever

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Rosannah (Madeleine Meigs) is obviously confused after two days asleep in a strange bed in the Alaskan wilderness.

By Ted Holteen Herald staff writer

Henry is a man who thinks before he speaks. In the opening scene of Cindy Lou Johnson’s “Brilliant Traces,” that simple trait becomes a Herculean task.

Put yourself in Henry’s shoes, which for Merely Players’ production of the 1989 stage standard are filled by Durango High graduate and University of Northern Colorado student Conor Sheehan. He has moved to a remote cabin in the Alaskan backcountry to escape any possibility of human interaction. Or so he thinks.

On a dark and stormy winter’s night, a pounding on his door awakens him, followed with an explosive entrance by a semi-hysterical bride protected from the harsh elements by only her gown. This is Rosannah, played by Madeleine Meigs during her summer break from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. So stunned is Henry by Rosannah’s arrival that he doesn’t speak for the first 12 minutes of the play. But she talks enough for both them.

When Henry finally starts talking, the 90-minute single-act play is a nonstop character study of two people who have been seriously warped. After letting her sleep for two straight days, Henry learns that Rosannah drove for days to arrive at his doorstep, the probability of which is on par with hitting the Powerball.

“Nobody just happens to come here,” he screams at her.

We learn that Rosannah’s odd odyssey began in Arizona and ended when her car died at Henry’s cabin. We learn that Henry is living the life of a hermit because of a tragedy from his own past. We also learn that these two are nuts and that perhaps fate did everyone a favor by pairing them up in a place where they can’t harm anyone but themselves. Theirs is an alternating energy of resentment and desire, and Sheehan and Meigs do a terrific job of making it real.

Both actors are former students of Mona Wood-Patterson, whose signature is all over “Traces.” The convincing set, built within the Spartan Back Space Theatre, is a creation of Wood-Patterson’s husband, Charles Ford. Bucking a trend of minimalist staging in modern theater, Henry’s cabin includes a real kitchen, bed and comfortable chair. He and Rosannah eat real food and drink real beverages. Those may sound like insignificant details, but I appreciated the authenticity. It’s an emotional story not suited for pantomime.

Wood-Patterson admitted she got lucky when Meigs and Sheehan decided to come home to Durango for the summer. With a cast of just two people and no scene breaks, a lot could go wrong without the right actors. Both have learned their craft well. It’s hard enough to memorize an hour and a half of dialog, but the duo delivers their lines with such confidence and emotion that their parents should rest easy knowing their tuition money is being well-spent. Meigs especially is so convincing as a woman on the verge of total collapse, that I was happy to meet her afterward and find that those traits are limited to the stage.

Audiences at tonight’s performance, as well as the Aug. 3 show, will have the same opportunity as Meigs, Sheehan and the producers will hold talkbacks at the conclusion of the play.

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