Elizabeth Jackson

A blizzard of feeling

Strangers clash during a whiteout in Defunkt's "Brilliant Traces." It's an intoxicating standoff.

Somewhere in Alaska, a woman knocks on a door. It isn’t a polite, casual knock—it’s a thunderous banging that reverberates through your body like the pounding of a war drum. Whoever this woman is, she has channeled all of her fear and rage into that knock, as if to say, “Absorb all that I’m feeling. I dare you.”

That moment makes for a fearsome start to Defunkt Theatre’s production of Brilliant Traces, Cindy Lou Johnson’s 1989 play about two wounded souls finding both solace and anguish during a blizzard. It’s an appealingly volatile, occasionally mechanical play. In the right hands, it has the power to stir and shock. In the wrong hands, it risks devolving into dramatized therapy.

Elizabeth Jackson and Matt Smith in Defunkt’s Brilliant Traces. Photo: Rosemary Ragusa

Which is why it’s a relief that the play has come to Defunkt. I’ve seen the company take audiences to myriad destinations, from Albert Einstein’s hotel room to an Iowa high school. Yet one thing has never changed: Defunkt’s plays are always driven by explosive emotions and sublime imagery. Brilliant Traces continues that impressive tradition by unleashing two thrillingly in-your-face performances on a set so evocatively wintry that it nearly makes you shiver.

Continues…

The Fighter, unleashed

Defunkt Theatre's "Girl in the Red Corner" is a rousing feminist anthem

“I want to fight someone so bad!”

That’s what I heard one audience member say after the end of defunkt theatre’s fearsome production of Girl in the Red Corner, Stephen Spotswood’s play about the rise of a rookie mixed-martial-arts fighter. I felt the same way, but I also understood that while Girl in the Red Corner is about fighting, it is specifically about women fighting. The true victory is not that the play’s protagonist, Halo (Elizabeth Jackson), becomes a winner, but that she defies abusive men and cynical women by molding her body and spirit into taut, unassailable fighting form.

It’s a long way from where she starts out. Girl in the Red Corner, which was directed by Paul Angelo, begins with Halo divorced, unemployed, and living with her Bud Light-loving mother, Terry (Diane Kondrat), who is about to be fired from her job at Safeway. Halo eventually finds work as a telemarketer, but that defines her less than her lessons with the ruthless Gina (Mamie Colombero) at an MMA gym.

Going with the punches. Photo courtesy defunkt theatre

MMA is the only way Halo can release the rage that has been building inside her ever since she was forced to quit her previous job after being sexually harassed by her boss (the sound of her leg kicking an Everlast pad is like a sonic boom). The only question is whether that will be enough to keep her from falling into the canyons of hopelessness that have consumed her mother and her sister Brinn (Paige Rogers), both of whom have been demeaned by powerful men for so long that they have all but given up resisting.

Continues…