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Best written reviews for “The Keys” performed by H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington, Virginia. Reviewed on May 14, 2021.


This audio may be listened to at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJkYSGyWDF4


Katherine Reif

Stone Bridge High School


Imagine a typical zombie-apocalypse movie. Thrilling fight scenes, gruesome murders, characters wandering through abandoned buildings in search of help. Replace the zombies with evil haunted pianos, and you'd have "The Keys," a horror-comedy one-act radio play performed by H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program. The student-written and -directed piece by Lex Garcia told the story of Jeff (Philip Juras) and Kathy (Charlotte Moulton) as they tried to escape their school, fight off hungry haunted pianos, and work through the issues in their relationship.


Creativity and ingenuity oozed from the performance. With a tiny cast of four (Juras and Moulton, as well as the Narrator played by Mirek Jungr and cool janitor Mr. Rodriguez played by teacher Travis Reyes) and a socially distanced sound stage, the play took COVID-19 restrictions in stride and sailed over them as if they were never an issue in the first place. The writing kept both the horror and comedy aspects in balance so that it neither became too scary nor too goofy to take seriously. The dialogue was expertly written, giving each character a distinct manner of speaking that remained realistic for the character. This also spoke to how well the dialogue was written for the actors (or maybe the actors were just that good); from banal gossip to genuine terror, it always sounded natural and like something a real person would say.


The play was recorded in the style of old radio plays: the four actors stood in a semicircle, with a live studio audience. The sound editing (Cameron Davis and Lex Garcia as sound editors, Josue Rocha and teacher Dan Paris as sound engineers) was seamless and thought of every detail without overpowering the actors or losing the comedic atmosphere. The mix of digital sound effects and real Foley sound effects recorded by the students brought the school to life, and while there was no video to help the audience see what was happening, the masterful incorporation of sound effects made it unnecessary.


With evil pianos as the primary antagonist, music was a guarantee. The soundtrack was composed and recorded by H-B Woodlawn alum Calista Garcia, the sister of director Lex Garcia. The music she wrote was in touch with the mood of the featured scenes. While it was a constant throughout the play, weaving in and out of the soundscape, it never overpowered the actors or sound effects. The diegetic music of the pianos talking to each other sounded like an actual conversation, which was both terrifying and unexpectedly hilarious.


Evil pianos haunting a school was such an outlandish, funky idea that it worked. It was so "out there" that the horror aspects never got too scary but was not so kooky that it couldn't be taken seriously. It struck a good balance that many family-friendly horror projects have a hard time with. Overall, the cast and crew did a remarkable job of telling the story in a way that was both understandable and complex, with nuance and humor. The end result was similar to a campfire story: comedic but with a supernatural twist. The students deserved a big round of applause for continuing to produce such work in a time when an actual zombie apocalypse wouldn't be unexpected. By making the audience laugh at their own situation, they made the world a little bit brighter. Good work, all!

Hayley Asai

Quince Orchard High School


An after-hours entrapment in a school, surrounded by bloodthirsty and murderous pianos: the optimal setting to work out your relationship problems. This is more or less the summary of The Keys, produced by H-B Woodlawn. In the student-written piece by Lex Garcia, a struggling high school couple finds themselves stuck after school in a building infested with killer pianos. What ensues in this love letter to old-time radio shows is a fascinating fusion of horror and witty comedy.


The show, recorded live in front of an audience, contained a striking yet straightforward cast of four. The three students in the show were accompanied by the performance of a teacher. Due to the small cast, all of the performances were unforgettable and able to stand on their own. This included the Narrator, played by Mirek Jungr, who showcased remarkable flair for dramatic tension in his voice acting. Through the use of sheer skill, Jungr was able to manipulate the tone and draw rousing suspense from the story. In addition, his clear, crisp, and slightly morbid-sounding tone was perfectly suited for the intimate nature of a radio show. As a whole, Jungr demonstrated a commendable level of acting that inspired intense fear while reliably filling the role of the Narrator within the show.


Though the whole cast should be applauded for their efforts and prowess, Philip Juras and Charlotte Moulton, who played the high school couple of Jeff and Kathy respectively, mastered the art of portraying a couple while providing a sense of discontent with each other. Kathy, blunt and temperamental, was played with a harsh judgment in a way that demanded the disdain of the viewer. In sharp contrast, Jeff was played with passiveness and soft-spoken clarity on a level that provided evidence of impeccable acting skills. Juras and Moulton played off each other with a comfortable level of conversation, akin to longtime friends or a close couple. Their profound acting skills allowed for their insecurities to be wordlessly drawn out by each other, from Kathy's insecurity to Jeff's constant questioning and dependence upon Kathy.


Without a doubt, the genius behind the scenes of the production was Lex Garcia. Although his work was invisible to the audience, Garcia should be lauded for writing, directing, and working on the sound editing of the show. In the end, the show was written and performed in a way that made no compromises toward the medium. Garcia's passion and remarkable storytelling skills shone through in the poignant and hilarious script.


All things considered, the show would not have been nearly as captivating without the sound design. The music throughout the show was composed specifically for the recording and several of the Foley sounds were recorded live, from the water fountain to the lockers. The sound effects were perfectly timed and aided the sense of spatial awareness in the recording. On account of this, the entire student sound team, which included Garcia, Cameron Davis, and Josue Rocha, should be thanked.


A radio show about killer pianos and a struggling couple is certainly not the image most conjure in their heads when imagining quality high school theatre. However, all works of art should be judged on their own terms rather than based on the viewer's expectation. By that measure, H-B Woodlawn's show, The Keys, succeeded immeasurably. The production was a testament to how the power of a medium has an unfathomable effect on storytelling. Thrilling and profound, this show was an excellent match for lovers of unique theatre and was certain to entertain audiences.


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