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Review: INHERITANCE CANYON by Taffety Punk

In Taffety Punk's Inheritance Cavern, three people struggle with the nature of ambition. Gary does impressions and dreams of being a Hollywood star, Shell is determined to break free from her community college background and become a scientist, and Sal attempts to find some kind of simple happiness, often at the bottom of a bottle. All interesting characters to be sure-but drop them in the middle of a quarantined canyon after an apocalypse-like explosion, and you've got a winner of a play.

Inheritance Cavern has the feel of a modern day Waiting for Godot: the sense of absurdity and unexplained setting both call back to the classic. But this production is anything but a rehash of previously trodden ground. Despite the fact that the program bills it as a "non-sequel" (it features the same characters in a different setting as a past Taffety Punk production), Liz Maestri's script feels fully formed and sparkles with a life of its own.

The cast is truly superb all around, and creates excellent physical comedy in the challengingly small Capitol Hill Arts Workshop theatre. James Flanagan kept the audience in stitches with his celebrity impressions and animated attempts at booking an audition in the middle of the apocalypse. Dan Crane as Dr. Jans Kröger, the dystopian scientific warden of our trio's canyon prison, hit a perfect combination of arrogance, pathos, and a quirky German accent, which brought the audience to tears of laughter more than once. Sal's bravado, portrayed by Teresa Castracane, and Shell's intense desire to be taken seriously as a scientist, played by Esther Williamson, are alternatively funny in their extremity and touching in their realness. Through a strange twist of sci-fi fate Dr. Kröger creates a Shell double, and Williamson and Gwen Grastorf should be commended for their chemistry, perfectly mirrored acting, and subtlety as one Shell slowly diverges from the other.

Daniel Flint's set is simple yet effective. Dr. Kröger's cramped laboratory is shown in cross-section, a trailer set up in the middle of the end of the world, stuffed full of toys masquerading as scientific objects, designed by Marcus Kyd. The peculiar science at work, achieved through spare keyboards, test-tubes, and Brittany Diliberto's effective lighting adds a degree of whimsy to the absurd plot. Kathy Cashel's sound design and original soundtrack is especially to be commended; the combination of electronica and indie rock kept the atmosphere tuned to modern yet mysterious.

Inheritance Canyon is not without it's flaws. The timing occasionally feels off; some beats are rushed while others are left too long, escalating into arguments amongst characters that slow the delightful rush of the plot. And while the ambiguous ending suits the absurd nature of the script, it would have been stronger if it had made more of a direct comment on one of the truly fascinating themes of friendship, ambition, power, and status explored through the rest of the play.

Still, it's a rare production that keeps you laughing consistently until the curtain falls and then keeps you thinking deeply as you drive home from the theatre. DC theatre-goers are currently spoiled for choice during the fantastic Women's Voices Festival. Still, this one deserves a spot on your must-see list.

Inheritance Canyon runs until October 10th at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, and you can get tickets here.

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