Catching up with Round House Theatre’s ‘Homebound’

Tuning in late? Here's what you missed. (It keeps getting better and better.)

JUST ADDED: EPISODE 5. All theatre is, to some extent, a reflection of the time and place it sprang from. From Aeschylus to Shakespeare to Tony Kushner, drama is a way of processing our collective experience. It seems fitting, then, that since all of our lives have turned upside down in the past two months, local theaters are stepping up to provide some context.

Such is the case with Homebound, the web series from Round House Theatre.

Featuring artists who were slated to work with Round House prior to the 2020 season cancellation, Homebound follows the intertwined lives of contemporary people who are affected—just like the rest of us—by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cast of Round House Theatre's 'Homebound.' Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.
The cast of Round House Theatre’s ‘Homebound.’ Photo courtesy of Round House Theatre.

By turns funny, poignant, and heartwarming, and endlessly relatable, Homebound is a testament to the enduring power of live theater (even if it is not, at the moment, live) to interpret and reflect back our collective experience.

Each episode of Homebound is written by a different local DC-area playwright. All episodes are directed by Ryan Rilette and Nicole A. Watson There are 10 episodes that will air on YouTube over the same number of weeks through June 29, 2020. With each episode clocking in at around 12 minutes, Homebound fits perfectly into the ADD-pace of the internet.

For the remainder of Homebound, DCMTA will be dropping updates on the most recent episodes. Don’t forget to tune in—and, if you can, donate to Round House to support their ongoing creative output.

EPISODE 1: CONNECT!

Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) as a potato and Craig (Craig Wallace) as himself, in ‘Homebound.’

The first episode of Homebound, “Connect!,” written by Washington Post columnist Alexandra Petri, is a farcical introduction to our two main characters: Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) and Craig (Craig Wallace). Both Ebrahimzadeh and Wallace had the bad luck of being Round House resident artists during a global pandemic.

I should note that even though the characters have the same first names as the actors, the characters are not actors. They work for an as-yet-undefined corporation in the DC area.

At any rate, Craig, an older gentleman, has accidentally “turned himself into a potato”—meaning, he has pushed a wrong button on Zoom that has put a “potato filter” over his digital face. Very funny, but not exactly appropriate for his fast-approaching business meeting. So, Craig calls his colleague, Maboud, in the hopes of some speedy tech support.

What results is a witty conversation with ample miscommunication and bad puns. Overall, “Connect!” is a humorous and accessible introduction to the series that whet my appetite for more.

EPISODE 2: HUMAN RESOURCES

Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) and his Human Resources manager, Alina (Alina Collins Maldonado), in ‘Homebound.’

Episode 1 of Homebound was funny and endearing, but for me, Episode 2, “Human Resources,” is where the series really begins to hit its stride. Written by Karen Zacarías (known for her award-winning Mariela in the Desert), the episode revolves around a video call between Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), whom we met in Epsiode 1, and his Human Resources manager, Alina (Alina Collins Maldonado).

Although their conversation begins as a routine employee checkup, it becomes clear that Alina is especially worried about Maboud—probably because he sent her a desperate message the previous night, along with a personalized playlist.

Maboud is reluctant to admit that he’s having a hard time. But Alina gently pushes, revealing that she’s not just doing her job here—she’s a genuinely caring person. We learn that pre-pandemic, Maboud’s whole life was work—and now, in the midst of a stay-at-home order, he’s going crazy without his office job.

“Human Resources” begins to delve more deeply into the social and psychological implications of quarantine—an important and fascinating subject that Homebound does well to explore.

EPISODE 3: WE WEAR THE MASK

Craig (Craig Wallace, inset) and his niece, Chinna (Chinna Palmer), in ‘Homebound.’

Homebound keeps getting better and better. Episode 3, titled “We Wear the Mask,” is by Farah Lawal Harris (Young Playwrights’ Theater artistic director and Welders member). Episode 3 brings back Craig (Craig Wallace), the erstwhile potato from Episode 1, and introduces us to Craig’s niece, Chinna (Chinna Palmer).

While chatting over a video app called Marco Polo (a real app which, like Zoom and FaceTime, has shot up in popularity since March) Uncle Craig and Chinna reveal their emotional struggles with quarantine.

Chinna, despite her COVID-thriving lifestyle of online dance classes and daily affirmations, admits that she woke up feeling lonely and empty. Craig responds that he, too, ha been feeling down. He is surprised by the strange new hurtfulness of being ignored and avoided by neighbors he used to happily chat with. Does social distancing have to mean emotional distancing, too?

The episode ends on a hopeful note, with the poem We Wear The Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar being read by Craig Wallace with his glorious Shakespearean intonation. Quarantine is tough. But with yoga, a few affirmations, and most importantly, family, we all may just be able to get through in one piece.

EPISODE 4: TOGETHER ALONE

Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) and his college-buddy therapist Dr. Jamie (Jamie Smithson, inset) in ‘Homebound.’

The fourth episode of Homebound, titled “Together Alone,” reintroduces us to our struggling hero, Maboud (Round House Theatre Resident Artist Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) as he attempts to dig himself out of his emotional hole with a spot of virtual therapy.

The only problem is that his therapist, and erstwhile college buddy, Dr. Jamie (Jamie Smithson) seems to be coping with even more severe psychological problems than Maboud. What follows is a darkly comic and ultimately inspiring tale of a patient helping his doctor—and, perhaps, healing himself in the process.

Written by DC-based playwright Liz Maestri and directed by Ryan Rilette, “Together Alone” harmonizes well with the tone established by the previous three Homebound episodes: poignant, funny, a short shot of heartwarming relatability in a world that seems so alien right now.

The everyday struggles of quarantine are illuminated by wonderful performances. Maboud Ebrahimzadeh continues to strike the right balance between comic loser and tragic hero, and Jamie Smithson is hilarious as the harried, frat boy therapist.

Homebound keeps getting better and better. Not only is it providing the admirable service of giving DC-area artists an outlet for their considerable talents; it is giving online audiences everywhere the chance to see their own COVID-era lives reflected on screen in a realistic and gently satirical way.

Plus in Episode 4, there is both a cute cat and a cute baby. That, in itself, should be enough incentive to click “like.”

EPISODE 5: DOUBLE ENTENDRE

Kofe (Yao Dogbe) on FaceTime with his friend Craig (Craig Wallace, inset).

Leave it to Psalmayene 24 to inject a little real-world politics into Homebound. In the fifth episode of Round House Theatre’s web series, titled “Double Entendre,” the iconic DC playwright Psalmayene24 and director Nicole A. Watson expand the purview of the web series just a little beyond strictly pandemic-related content.

Episode 5 starts innocuously enough. Craig (Round House Theatre Resident Artist Craig Wallace) and Kofe (Yao Dogbe) are small-talking over FaceTime after a hilarious, Maury-style prank that Kofe pulls on Craig. But the conversation soon turns serious.

How could it not these days, especially now when the DC area officially has the highest rate of positive COVID cases in the nation?

Between Craig and Kofe, who both turn in fantastic performances, the initial discussion is indeed about coronavirus—how are they doing, how are their friends and families? But then Kofe changes the subject—has Craig seen the viral video of a Black jogger’s murder?

Craig answers in the negative—the news is depressing enough, he explains, without the murder of an innocent man. Craig has even posted a reminder on his TV screen: DO NOT WATCH THE NEWS!

But Kofe has seen the video and, like so many others, is horrified, angry, afraid. He explains to Craig that he is homebound—not in the social distancing sense, but meaning he will soon return to his native Ghana, where, he darkly jokes, the political leadership is actually leading.

Episode 5 starts out funny, even whimsical, and ends on a fascinating meditation of what it means to have a home. That’s a lot to pack into eleven minutes. But with a pair of excellent performances and a razor-sharp script, Episode 5 punches well above its weight.

TO BE CONTINUED…

All episodes of Homebound are available for viewing on YouTube.

SEE ALSO “How does “‘Homebound’ happen? A peek behind the screens” by David Siegel

Tax-deductible contributions can be made on the Round House Theatre website.

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