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 9 (“The language in Episode 9 is tremendously beautiful, a testament to Dane Figueroa Edidi, a Black trans performance artist, writer, and dancer…. In a time when powerful people are trying very hard to silence certain voices, Homebound is amplifying them”).

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.

EPISODE 6: SOMETIMES IT SNOWS IN APRIL

Craig (Craig Wallace) in ‘Homebound.’

The sixth episode of Round House Theatre’s Homebound, “Sometimes It Snows in April,” is a reunion of the web series’ protagonists, Craig and Maboud (Round House Theatre Resident Artists Craig Wallace and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh). Episode 6 is a return to form for Homebound in its simple yet powerful exploration of hyper-contemporary quarantine life. 

Written by Tim J. Lord, whose play We Declare You a Terrorist will be produced by Round House in their 2021–22 season, Episode 6 centers around a Zoom call between Craig and Maboud.

Continuing the storyline of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting, introduced in Episode 5, Craig is attempting to run the 2.23 mile memorial jog in honor of Arbery. But he can’t do it. He explains to Craig that he just can’t bring himself to believe that it will have any impact.

Meanwhile, in a dark twist of prescience, Minneapolis plays a critical role in this episode as the city where Maboud is seriously planning on moving. His furlough at the fictional company CFS is ongoing and looking bleaker by the day. His beloved Alina, whoM we met in Episode 3, is going to be fired. 

We learn that Maboud’s attachment to his job is not so much workaholism as a connection to his colleagues. “You all took me in,” he explains. “I’ve never had that in my adult life.” Now that he’s disconnected from those relationships, he feels there’s not much more tying him to DC.

As always, Craig Wallace and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh offer sensitive and compelling performances. Directors Ryan Rilette and Nicole A. Watson keep the show moving at a crisp pace. At a short 12 minutes, Homebound is the perfect shot of streamed theater to add to your quarantine content diet.

Episode 6 ends with both Craig and Maboud masking up, going outside, and running… But then Craig pauses, and we don’t know if he can do it. But even if he can’t, Maboud’s gesture still proves how our strength is doubled, at least, when we connect with the people around us—even if it is over Zoom.

Note: Round House Theatre released a statement May 31 explaining that

Episode 6 of Homebound, “Sometimes It Snows in April,” was written and is set three weeks ago, when the killing of Ahmaud Arbery was still on every front page in America. Arbery’s death at the hands of two white men while he jogged through a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Georgia, weighs heavily on the mind of Craig during the episode.

EPISODE 7: THE DATE

Lynette (Lynette Rathnam) and Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) in ‘Homebound.’

In the funniest episode thus far of Round House Theatre’s Homebound web series, writer Dani Stoller and Director Ryan Rilette explore the strange new world of virtual dating.

Appropriately titled “The Date,” the segment has Maboud (Round House Theatre Resident Artist Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) awkwardly dippin his toe into the sea of digital companionship. Using an app called Meet Q-ute (the Q is for quarantine—get it?), Maboud video-chats with Lynette (Lynette Rathnam), a warm and funny yoga instructor.

Things start out pretty awkwardly between Lynette and Maboud. Their initial conversation is chock full of cringe-worthy jokes and little embarrassments. But they develop a rapport and soon they are making music, taking shots, and showing off their cats, all with the “safety of a screen” between them.

The light and casual banter belies a much more profound discussion of the nature of life during this strange time—Homebound‘s raison d’être. Lynette, in particular, articulates how she has searched for ways to quiet her mind while the whole world is on pause.

Through little acts of mindfulness like leg-shaving and fingernail-polishing, she may just have found the secret ingredient to getting through quarantine with sanity intact. Maboud and Lynette talk and laugh and sing until 2 am. When they finally hang up, all Maboud can say is “wow.”

Episode 7 is filled to the brim with little gems of humor and wisdom in equal measure. Both Lynette Rathnam and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh give gentle and funny performances. and the episode serves as a reminder that life still goes on in the midst of a global pandemic. We’ve all found out that lots of things can be done through a screen—perhaps even falling in love.

EPISODE 8: COMMUNITY

Craig (Craig Wallace) in ‘Homebound.’

Homebound has sure come a long way in eight weeks. What started as a light, even farcical take on the foibles and idiosyncrasies of life in the midst of a pandemic is now tackling very serious issues of racism and violence.

In truth, as the title card says before Episode 7: “Each Homebound playwright responds to the moment in which they are writing. As these moments shift ever more rapidly, these episodes are not stories of the present, but snapshots of the recent past.”

So, really, it’s not that Homebound made a predetermined decision to become more dramatic and political. It’s just that since March, the world has traveled even further through the looking glass than we initially thought. The diverse playwrights of Homebound have simply followed the first rule of improvisation: “Yes, and…”

Episode 8, “Community,” is dedicated to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau. The author of Episode 8 is Agyeiwaa Asante, a Ghanaian-American playwright based in the DC area who is also the Literary Assistant at Round House.

Helen (Helen Hedman) in ‘Homebound.’

It is centered around a phone conversation between Craig (Round House Theatre Resident Artist Craig Wallace) and Helen (Helen Hedman), a representative from a community-based agriculture organization looking to recruit Craig.

At first, Craig has little interest in Helen’s well-intentioned overtures. But they begin to connect over the ongoing Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Both Craig’s niece, Chinna (whom we met in Episode 3) and Helen’s son are participating in protests.

But Helen is more optimistic about the outcome than Craig. Burned many times by the fleeting overtures of would-be allies, Craig asks, “What happens when the people who don’t have to care just…stop?”

Craig has certainly become a more fraught and complex character, from his inauspicious start as a potato in Episode 1. Craig Wallace has truly risen to the challenge, appearing increasingly comfortable as the web series has progressed. This episode is probably the best acting from Wallace so far. There are many conflicting and overlapping emotions that Wallace portrays clearly but subtly.

Homebound has grown from a quarantine distraction to a legitimate part of the artistic discourse surrounding the uprisings of 2020. So much of what determines the future is the everyday conversations people are having with their neighbors, friends, colleagues…and sometimes perfect strangers. It is fitting, then, that Homebound takes ordinary conversation as its starting point—with, often, extraordinary results.

EPISODE 9: REFUGE

Maya (Maya Jackson) in ‘Homebound.’

The artistic scope of Homebound has broadened and deepened so much since its first episode nine weeks ago, it barely seems like the same web series. After fearlessly diving into racial politics following the Ahmaud Arbery video several weeks (and an eternity) ago, the series has hit a raw nerve of emotion that it refuses to let go. Despite that, it maintains the warm, sweet, relatable qualities that made Homebound a delight from the beginning.

In Episode 9, “Refuge,” written by Dane Figueroa Edidi and directed by Nicole A. Watson, politics serves as a means to a different end: namely, an emotional confrontation between protagonist

Maya (Maya Jackson) and Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) in ‘Homebound.’

In a now-familiar structure for Homebound, Episode 9 centers around a FaceTime call Maboud makes upon finding an old love letter from Maya. Their conversation starts out light and friendly, but it is clear tension lurks below the surface. Maboud asks about Maya’s transgender sister, leading into a discussion about the recent killing of Black trans people.

Maya says, “I’m angry all the time,” and Maboud responds, glibly, “I remember…” This sparks a passionate re-trial of everything that went wrong in their relationship. For a ten-minute short, Episode 9 packs a lot of emotional punch. Maboud begs, “I want closure, Maya. I need it.” Maya responds: “You didn’t come to me for closure. You came to me for refuge.”

Both Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Maya Jackson turn in amazing performances. Jackson, especially, accesses an incredible depth of feeling. She is by turns angry, tired, hurt, and, ultimately, afraid, and that all came across on my tiny YouTube window. Maboud, for his part, delivers his deepest performance of the series thus far, adding a lot of complexity to a character that seemed less dimensional just a few weeks back.

In addition to the performances, the language in Episode 9 is tremendously beautiful, a testament to Dane Figueroa Edidi, a Black trans performance artist, writer, and dancer who has twice been nominated for Helen Hayes Awards. Especially moving are sequences where Maya Jackson narrates spoken-word elegies over a slow, beautiful dance piece.

In addition to the poetry of the language, Episode 9 includes an Epilogue where both actors break character and directly eulogize some of the Black trans people who have been killed recently. It is an incredibly moving gesture.

The last three episodes of Homebound all feature Black women writers—a decision that was made before the 2020 uprisings but one that feels all the more urgent now. In a time when powerful people are trying very hard to silence certain voices, Homebound is amplifying them. That, in itself, is a victory.

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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