Review: ‘Inheritors: The Nature of Keys’ at Howard Community College’s Arts Collective

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Inheritors: The Nature of Keys is an original collaborative drama by Howard Community College’s Art Collective, directed by S. G. Kramer, that opened at the HCC’s Horowitz Center Studio Theatre on Thursday, June 8, 2017.

(left to right) Nsikan Akpan, Makayla Beckles, Tey Harper, Lorrie Smith Saito, Gabrielle Amaro, Colin Riley, Emma K. McDonnell, Daniel Johnston, and Chania Hudson. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Recently, I had the privilege of discussing the state of American Theater at a forum at Columbia University in New York. Interestingly, the New York based panelists were concerned with the lack of support of experimental and non-traditional theater, but the two of us who were involved in urban and rural theater both agreed that there was a treasure of talented dramatists, directors, designers, and actors who were very active in college and regional theater. This production of young artists is an example of the wonderful collaborative efforts that we see in our community.

The production is quite a different experience for the audience. Do not expect a traditional theater experience. You will be escorted into a very bare performing area. From there you are led by the action to various areas behind the Studio Theatre, including outside the building, to follow what starts out as a very loose story being written by a young woman who is a writer in her soul but a janitor to make ends meet.

It takes a while to understand totally what is happening as you are lead through the writer’s mind and thought process, jumping from reality to storyline. Just when you think you are on the right track another storyline evolves in another area, and the voices attract you to relocate to still another part of the building, including closets, kitchens, and workshops, and finally back to the Studio Theatre. The story will remind you of Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky. In this case we look at the crime process and the criminal’s mind through a series of vignettes. There is also some topical points made in the telling about racism, Black Lives Matter, greed, and sexism.

Lorrie Smith Saito. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

As we travel through the complex, we travel through the writer’s mind as well as the criminal’s mind. Don’t get comfortable in a chair. Don’t be surprised to be lead off to a remote area by a performer. Although there is a lot of anger and even hate projected by the performers, there is hope at the end. The company admittedly tries to reflect these turbulent times, but remains optimistic through the process.

The set was conceived by S. G. Kramer and Emma McDonnell. As the set includes several very unusual spaces, as mentioned previously, this required a lot of thought and imagination. The Lighting Design by Andrew M. Haag, Jr., also required some “out of the box” creativity as did the Sound Design by Kevin Hill, which often cues the audience to new locations to view the action. The costumes were styled by Daniel Johnston and assisted by Jessica Welsh. All the designs reflect the dark nature of the plot as well as the dreamlike aspect of the story.

Nsikan Akpan. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

The cast are also the Creators of the play and include Nsikan Akpan, Gabrielle Amaro, Makayla Beckels, Tey Harper, Chania Hudson, Daniel Johnston, Emma McDonnell, Colin Riley, and Lorrie Smith Saito. All perform admirably while telling this story in this unusual venue. Akpan is the writer, and Johnton plays the criminal. Both are strong anchors in leading us through the maze.

Kramer not only directs the group adeptly through all the parts of the labyrinth, but encourages the joint creative effort. This is college theater at its best: creative, original and educational for both the company and the audience.

Because of the nature of the production I need to give future audiences some warning. You will be asked to leave coats and purses at the door. So, you may want to remove valuables and phones before you go. If you have trouble getting moving around easily, you may want to let the theater people know before you enter. I am sure they will make sure you can are not hindered. Also, there are strobe lights; if you are sensitive to them, let the theater know before you go inside. You may be approached by actors to join them outside the present field of action. It will be a positive experience, but feel free to say no.

Otherwise, be prepared to experience a story of many layers that will lead you through opened and closed doors in an effort to show you some truths and a very unique experience. You may hold the key to the story. As there is so much simultaneous action, each visit to the theater will be an unique and individual experience. You may want to visit more than once.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Inheritors: The Nature of Keys plays through June 18, 2017, at Arts Collective @ HCC performing at Howard Community College’s Studio Theatre – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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