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Review #1: ‘House.’ at Arts Collective@HCC

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House., an original comedy written and directed by Daniel Johnston, opened last night at Howard Community College’s Arts Collective at the Horowitz Center in the Studio Theatre. This is Johnston’s first play to be performed in a workshop production as well as the first play he has directed. The play well exceeds any expectations I had.

Top Row, Left to Right: Iris Shih, Christian Preziosi, Alex Becker, Sierra Young, Chaseedaw Giles, Courtney Branch, Jordan Colea, Colin Riley, and Taylor Purnell. Bottom Row, Left to Right: Thomas Matera, Warren Harris, Wesley LeRoux, Gabrielle Amaro, and Brandon Furr. Photo by St. Johnn Blondell.

Top Row, Left to Right: Iris Shih, Christian Preziosi, Alex Becker, Sierra Young, Chaseedaw Giles, Courtney Branch, Jordan Colea, Colin Riley, and Taylor Purnell. Bottom Row, Left to Right: Thomas Matera, Warren Harris, Wesley LeRoux, Gabrielle Amaro, and Brandon Furr. Photo by St. Johnn Blondell.

House. is a very funny satire with sharp and witty dialogue, clear and recognizable characters and enough mystery to keep the audience on edge.  The plot is an imaginary reality show, like Survivor or Big Brother. We are introduced to the characters at the start by having the actors individually tell the “camera” why they are on the show and need, or do not need, the million dollar prize. This is a very interesting technique as it puts the audience into the mind frame of a television viewer, and gives each role a starting point from which all the participants develop well-rounded characters.

Johnston uses a similar technique at the end with two variations. In one, he has the stagehands mime the contestants’ recorded dialogue and finally has the actors recreate the early “clips” with less editing.  Both experiments work successfully. Th audience also votes in keeping with the reality show format.  By the end, the audience at last night’s opening performance was cheering on their favorites.

The ensemble group of actors is, for the most part very young, some with very little stage experience. There is a sprinkling of more-seasoned performers.  This is one of the best ensemble groups I have seen, and the predominantly young thespians accredited themselves well.  There is no one standout performance, and that is the beauty of the production-it’s a team effort. The actors compliment each other perfectly thus creating a unit that blends like ingredients in fine pastry.

Gabrielle Amaro (the strong, earthy Andrea), Courtney Branch (the southern belle anxious to leave her West Virginia roots),  Brandon Furr (the faithful husband and soon-to-be father trying to give his family financial security), Chaseedaw Giles (the older alpha manipulative Elaine), Warren Harris (the flamboyant, yet endearing Micky), Wesley LeRoux (the sexy buy sympathetic Carlos), Tom Matera (the alpha male Peter whose motives are better than his methods), Christian Preziosi (the stoic but plotting Liston),  Iris Shih (the studious and ambitious Fatima), and Sierra Young (Christine with the seemingly heart of gold that may be hiding stronger needs) are all outstanding as the ten conniving and often duplicitous contestants who get eliminated one by one.

Taylor Purnell and Colin Riley play the breathless and foppish hosts of the show in a wonderful composite parody of all those annoying self-centered announcers we see on the home screen.  Even the so-called stagehands, performed by Jordan Colea and Alex Becker, add to the hilarity as they slyly interact with the contestants.

Playwright Daniel Johnston. Photo courtesy of Arts Collective@HCC.

Playwright/Director Daniel Johnston. Photo courtesy of Arts Collective@HCC.

The set, costumes, props, music and sound are credited to the cast and crew.  The set is simple, but to keep the scenes varied and interesting to watch – they use four platforms on three different levels with just a chair and sofa on one and bed on another. And, of course, there were eight chairs for the eliminated contestants who stay on as jurors who will pick the winner from the two finalists. The costumes also are important in helping to individualize the characters and allowing the audience to keep them all straight in the chaotic beginning.

The lighting by Eric Moore creates the mood of this house of strangers – who are under a microscope for several weeks as they are being filmed during their waking hours. It is just glaring enough to let us feel like we are viewing a television show, without becoming annoying to watch. Moore uses blinking lights to let us know the contestants have cast their votes, as they eliminate one of their own. This keeps the voting from becoming monotonous.

Sadly, there is only one more performance left of House. tonight at 8 PM

Hopefully, Daniel Johnston will find other venues for this very funny script.  But if you can, get out of your house and away from your ‘boob tube’ and come to The Studio Theatre to watch some reality television.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with an intermission.

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House. has one more performance TONIGHT March 12, 2016 at 8 PM, at Arts Collective @ HCC performing at Howard Community College’s Studio Theatre – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, purchase them online, or at the door.

LINKS:
Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House.’: Part 1: Playwright/Director Daniel Johnston by Joel Markowitz.

Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House.’: Part 2: Cast Members Gabrielle Amaro, Alex Becker, Courtney Branch, and Jordan Colea by Joel Markowitz.

Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House.’: Part 3: Cast Members Brandon Furr, Chaseedaw Giles, Warren Harris, and Wesley LeRoux by Joel Markowitz.

Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House.’: Part 4: Cast Members Chania Hudson, Tom Matera, and Christian Preziosi and Crew Member Taylor Purnell by Joel Markowitz.

Behind the Scenes of Arts Collective @HCC’s Workshop Production of ‘House.’: Part 5: Cast Members Colin Riley, Iris Shih, and Sierra Young.

HCC’s Arts Collective Premieres Local Playwright’s Original Comedy, ‘House’ on March 11 and 12, 2016 by Susan G. Kramer.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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