Presented by Porchlight Theatre
The House Key Project is an immersive performance that leads an audience of only ten through various backstage locations at Theatre Aquarius. Written and performed by four young Hamilton theatre-makers, each piece explores aspects of cultural identity. As the audience is guided deeper into hidden sections of the building, the aesthetics of each work become increasingly abstract and stylized, the stories more fable-like.
In Untitled Goose Game, Darnie Tran shares their struggle to reconcile the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian aspects of their family history while simultaneously negotiating their gender fluidity. Parental discomfort with sex and racial prejudice figure prominently. We get some interesting juxtapositions as airport announcements echo inner confusion and the packing of a suitcase mirrors the unpacking of self.
Angelica Reid’s Instruction Manuel for Stereo-Types has, for me, the most cogent fusion of concept and compelling characterization. A young woman challenges societal expectations of her Blackness by examining the ways in which she does or does not conform to stereotypes. Insights passed down from her interracial parents help her with the burden of being scrutinized. There is some clever, metaphorical use of analogue devices.
Nich Simao’s Barren Place has a young man of mixed Jamaican and Portuguese descent having his family house taken from him by and outsider with some dubious claim upon it. A spider fable figures prominently, but I found it hard to follow. This piece is hypnotic as Simao has an intense, persuasive physicality. He contorts his body into uncomfortable spasms that suggest an oppressive, manipulative force at work. A web-like network of strings adds another layer to an already dense, astonishing work I wish I was able to revisit.
Toothpicks up against the Sky, by Preye Godwin, was also hard for me to fully access in a single viewing. The audio element kept cutting out and much of the spoken text was lost. The ornate, surrealist bower set was intriguing and pulled my attention from her performance. I felt oddly guilty here as I feared I had somehow failed the artist in some intangible way.
Under the direction of Karen Ancheta and Aaron Jan, the audience is pulled quite efficiently through this series of dynamic, viscerally stimulating environments. Unconventional theatrical experiences are my jam so I’m down for walking through darkened hallways and squeezing into corners to watch people through mirrors.
The design team—Sung Won Cho (lighting), Chris Liz Boyd (sound), and Faith Mo (set)—have created intriguing, low-key spectacle out of the audio-visual landscape of each work. Key themes are given physical form and integrated into the performance.
Though the audio elements are inventive, I found the headsets specifically quite awkward. The audience dons them periodically throughout the performance, though much of the audio could be—and in many instances is—played from a source within the room. At times, I felt distanced from a performer who was only a few feet away because of the device. Perhaps they were a practical solution to an on-site dilemma, but I didn’t find them as fluidly immersive as intended.
Overall, The House Key Project is playfully innovative and invites the audience on an adventure to decode its poetry.