Review: ‘Holiday Memories’ at HCC Art’s Collective

Holiday Memories plays this weekend only at Howard Community College in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center’s Studio Theatre produced by the Howard County Arts Collective and directed by S.G. Kramer.

The play was adapted for the stage by Russell Vandenbroucke from Truman Capote’s holiday Stories, “The Thanksgiving Visitor” and “A Christmas Memory.”

These pieces look at Capote’s life in rural Alabama, and his experiences with distant relatives when he was seven years old. Capote’s relationship with Sook, who was also his best, and really only, friend, is the central focus of both stories. Sook never left her home or married, but developed a relationship with Truman, whom she called Buddy, that was as close as any mother and son. Without hardly and money or experience with children she teaches Truman some of life’s most valuable lessons.

The cast of Holiday Memories. Photograph by Bruce F. Press.

Holiday Memories is a warm and tender production. The attention to detail pays off beautifully from the old chairs, pot-belly stove, modest tree, and gifts that decorate the stage; to the wonderful lighting used to create a symphony of shadow-acting behind a scrim that goes from one side of the stage to the other.

The speaking actors sit downstage, the older Truman (Bruce Leipold); Buddy, the young Truman (Alexander Stephanos); and Miss Sook Falk, Buddy’s relative and friend when he was seven years old (Valerie Lash). They read Capote’s two tales with charm and grace. As the dialogue switches from Leipold to Stephanos and later to include Lash, they never miss a beat. Leipold gives Truman that great sense of humor and Stephanos gives Buddy the right amount of boyish outlook to keep us from confusing what are really the same person. Lash’s Sook was endearing without being cloying.

Holiday Memories. Photograph by Bruce F. Press.

On the other side of the stage Chris Sisson sits as the lone live musician. His sweet guitar playing and original music are the background of this compassionate show.

The rest of the ensemble appear as the characters behind the screen miming in shadow the narrators’ story. They include Nsikan Akpan, Denée Barr, Makayla Beckles, Chania Hudson, Daniel Johnston, Mary Liberto, Emma McDonnell, Colin Riley, Michael Schreibstein and Zoey Wexler. All the actors bring such strength to their roles. However, the characters of Buddy (Zoey Wexler) and Sook (Chania Hudson) are given special nuances that make those performances so special. The entire creative thespians not only create human characters but transform in to trees in the woods. A wonderful achievement of many created by Kramer and her Assistant Director, Daniel Johnston in this riveting drama.

The lights by Andrew M. Haag, Jr. are at a level you would expect to see at Kennedy Center, a masterful concept. Emma K, McDonnel not only is in the ensemble but help create the set and props that add to this wonderful sense of nostalgia. Johnston also did the costumes and they, too were quite effective, especially the ones worn by the miming actors.

The HCC’s Arts Collective is critically acclaimed and for two decades has encouraged innovational events in the arts as well as providing training for new and talented artists in the region and this production is more proof of the success of their mission.

DC Metro Theater Arts has a special connection to this production. Joel Markowitz who was the founder and editor for DCMTA passed away on November 7, 2017, after a hard fight with ALS. Joel has a passion for regional artists, and a special spot in his heart for community and educational theater. I, personally, was sent to cover several Arts Collective shows at HCC. It is so appropriate that this show which features students, alumni, staff, faculty and guest artists from the community would be the one chosen to honor his work in theater.

Make Holiday Memories part of your warm holiday recollections. Take the whole family and savor the wonderful holiday fare served up by the talented cast and crew. It should become as a traditional holiday favorite as fruitcake.

Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes with an Intermission.

Holiday Memories plays until December 10th at Arts Collective @ HCC performing at Howard Community College’s Studio Theatre – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

Please note: If you bring a new or lightly used children’s book (infant to 5 years old) you will receive a free treat at intermission. The books will be donated to Howard Community College’s Children’s Learning Center “Library for Little Readers.”

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