Arts Alive: Cappies Review of Ink by Annandale High School
Fairfax County Public Schools students are talented actors, musicians, and visual artists. Many FCPS high schools participate in the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Critics and Awards Program for High School Theatre, otherwise known as the Cappies.
The Cappies is a program through which high school theater and journalism students are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, write reviews, and publish those reviews in local newspapers. There are fifteen Cappies chapters across the United States and Canada.
The Cappies continues this year with virtual performances. Students learning through the theatre arts is as important as ever. Most performances this year are written by students and are available to watch on the Cappies website. Some performances do require a fee to view online.
Editor's Note: This review of Annandale High School's virtual production of Ink is written by Aren Iverson of South County High School. You can watch Ink on the Annandale Theatre Company YouTube channel.
To most of us, a pen is something we see every day. It's a tool for answering math problems, writing thank-you letters, or jotting a quick post-it note. But recently, Annandale High School revealed a simple fountain pen as a conduit of true evil. "Ink," a completely virtual performance, had supposedly fearless audience members glancing twice at shadows in their room.
To give background on this show is impossible. Ink is an original work, imagined and inscribed by its actors, and is all the better for it. This show (written by Mariam Sesay, Miguel Orozco, Haleluya Worku, Han Le, and Amanda Weaver) followed five teenagers on an ordinary Zoom call that devolves into hysteria after a haunted pen takes control of two project-mates. This show had a vibrant cast of diverse teenagers, without the weight of young adult stereotypes. The characters talked and acted like real-life teens who had worries, problems, and lives, and the writers utilized pop-culture references to subtly set the time-period. The horror in this show was terrifying. The writers declined to write with overused horror tropes, instead favoring a psychological thriller where the audience visualizes their worst nightmare. When the blood hits the fan, the show ends. There is no closure. The audience had no clue what happened after the dreaded fountain pen was broken and an innocent girl died, or even who the killer was, leaving terror of the unknown and lingering suspense that will never truly end.
A performance that saturated Ink with much-needed comedy and light-heartedness was skillfully executed by Miguel Orozco as Parker. His masterful comedic timing when delivering punny one-liners and his overall sunglass-clad embodiment of goofiness sparkled in even the most dire of situations. Fatima (Mariam Sesay) had a very no-nonsense, exasperated tone as the Zoom call began, but Sesay's control and range of emotion allowed her character to deteriorate into pure panic as the suspense built. Two other actresses that must be mentioned both separately and together come from the best-friend, possible girlfriend, duo of Lily (Amanda Weaver) and Yuna (Han Le). Weaver's and Le's connection was portrayed in a beautifully haunting way, and there was genuine caring and love between the characters, which made the grotesque death of Lily piercing as Yuna screamed in agony.
As an ensemble, this cast was on-point. When they weren't talking, the actors were munching on snacks or playing video games, lending credibility to the premise that these were all just teenagers trying to finish an assignment. Additionally, the performers demonstrated control of "Zoom acting." Their leaning closer to and father away from the camera lenses drew the eye and attention.
The tech elements of Ink shone, even from behind the screen. As the opening credits played, a soundtrack of unsettling music blared, setting the stage for a production that challenged our perceptions of what online theatre could be. In the first scene, Fatima listened to a recorded lesson on blood and human anatomy. The use of this video to subtly foreshadow what was to come was a brilliant decision. The garnet red lighting in Lily's room manifested a sense of eeriness and trepidation, a feeling that was compounded when the shadow villain's black figure was illuminated against the red. This hue came back to haunt the show again in the demonic symbol that Yuna drew.
Ink by Annandale High School was a genius show designed and executed to pose the question "do we ever really know what is coming?"
Subscribe to the 2020-21 FCPS Theater Calendar
Do you love watching high school theater? If so, check out the Fine and Performing Arts calendar on the FCPS website. Individual listings for many middle and high school theater events are listed through December. Users can subscribe to the calendar to be notified of upcoming performances, and each event can be added to a calendar or shared on social media. See the Fine and Performing Arts calendar.