“How are you getting through these days?” Thomas Sadoski asks.
“At first I felt like Anne Frank but with Amazon Prime,” Jennifer Carpenter answers…”Now I’ve decided my apartment is a stateroom on the Queen Mary and I’m far out at sea.”
The exchange is from “Satori,” a seven-minute play written by John Guare and directed by Jerry Zaks, which is different in several ways from most of the dozen short plays in the starry third edition of The Homebound Project, an online anthology series of original work whose aim is to raise money for No Kid Hungry. It has so far collected more than $73,000 by charging ten dollars a ticket.
“Satori” is the only play of the twelve in this batch with more than one actor. It is one of the few to address the pandemic directly, and one of the few streaked with humor
But Sadoski’s character has much in common with many of those in the other plays. He’s become unhinged. He has taken up Yoga, and It has awakened him to the truth (Satori means awakened) that God’s mission “is to wipe us off the face of the earth, restore the planet to its true caretakers,” that “Our government understands this” and that he is calling his friend (and presumably everybody he knows) to urge her to “Rip off your mask. Leap into crowds. Touch each other. Kiss each other. Love each other Infect each other. We forfeited the right to live on this earth.”
It’s bracing how many of these new works feature characters who have lost it.
Among the most memorable is the second grade teacher portrayed by Ashley Parker in the play by Bess Wohl, which the playwright has entitled “The Morning Message to the Second Graders in Room 206,” and which features a teacher being inappropriate in sundry ways: Instead of teaching spelling (“Nobody gives a shit about selling. Shakespeare couldn’t spell”) she has the class contemplate a feather. She also lets out a unrestrained scream.
In “Checking In” written by Clare Barron, and directed by Steven Pasquale, Phillipa Soo is trying to reassure somebody on the telephone: “I’m having like very, very mild suicide ideation, like very very mild, just a couple of times a day.” In Samuel D. Hunter’s play, Will Pullen tries to record a birthday message to an aunt who has long been shunned by the family, and reveals his own estrangement.
We don’t know if these characters’ depression has been ignited by a world in crisis – this seems unlikely. Similarly, in several of the plays, such as Idle Hands by Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Mourning Swan by Mara Nelson-Greenberg, the characters come off as unprovoked psychopaths.
It was difficult for me at first to see what all this sadness and insanity had to do with the theme of this edition – “Champions.” That was the prompt that the playwrights were given. Only two of the plays have anything explicitly to do with winners, and they both subvert the concept. In “I Was Gonna Win But Then” by Gina Femia, Paola Lázaro explains to somebody off-camera that she was going to win a race, but then she stopped because she met a winged angel, who turned out to be ill, coughing up stones, so she lingered to take care of her. In “I’m a Winner Not a Loser” by Xavier Galva, Michael (Arian Moayed) explains that he has a “super rare medical condition” that he shares with other people with the same initials, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan, known as TWM – “The Winning Mentality.” But, as it turns out, he’s explaining this to a therapist, and, in an amusing twist, he’s still pining or the wife who divorced him.
I didn’t think about what else “champion” could mean until intermission, when they presented five minutes of playful video footage of various pets (such as Amanda Seyfried’s white donkey Gus, who made a cameo in a previous edition, and lots of cats and dogs) , and listed who the animals’ champions were (his dad who adopted him from a shelter; anyone with food.) Most playwrights, I realized, interpreted “champion” as supporter – which is something we all seem to need these days.
This edition of The Homebound Project was originally scheduled for earlier in June, and was postponed to honor the Black Lives Matter movement. There is an opening montage that includes footage of protesters and frontline workers, and a play was added to the original line-up, only one of the two to address the protests even indirectly. In “Here and Now” by C.A. Johnson, Daveed Diggs knocks on somebody’s door, gets no answer, so sits on the doormat, takes off his face mask, and starts talking, assuming that the person on the other side is there but just not welcoming him. “The world is on fire right now, like folks are finally waking the fuck up to injustice, or anger or empathy etc.” He tells the story of passing by a white dude with bugged out eyes who started putting his fist in the air and yelling at him “Black Lives Matters” as a show of support. Eventually, we learn that he’s talking through the door to his “baby brother,” a trans woman, trying to make amends – “If my life matters to some random white guy on a porch, then your black life should sure as hell matter to me.
I found “Here and Now” the most quietly moving of the plays. The Homebound Project 3 ends with a more noisily moving play, “Let’s Save the World” by Michael R Jackson, in which Diane Lane explains how she woke up with wings, and she was not alone, as winged Americans swooped down on animal factories, polluted rivers, Washington D.C., churches and news media, healing and liberating.
“For the last few years it seemed the world had turned upside down and inside out and I, like so many had been feeling so scared and hopeless and wondering who would save us. It suddenly made nothing but sense.
“We would. We were the ones we’re waiting for.” Then Diane Lane fades, and Michael R. Jackson sings an original song.
The Homebound Project #3 is available through June 28.
List of plays:
Here and Now
By C.A. Johnson
Featuring Daveed Diggs
A Very Special Message to a Very
Special Aunt on the Occasion of
Her Sixtieth Birthday From All The
by Samuel D. Hunter
Featuring Will Pullen
Directed by Jenna Worsham
Blue Pink Hot Pink Yellow
by Daniel Talbott
Featuring Eve Lindley
Directed by Kevin Laibson
by Clare Barron
Featuring Phillipa Soo
Directed by Steven Pasquale
by Mara Nelson-Greenberg
Featuring Joshua Leonard
Directed by Jenna Worsham
by Donnetta Lavinia Grays
Featuring Ralph Brown
Directed by Jenna Worsham
by Korde Arrington Tuttle
Featuring Blair Underwood
by John Guare
Featuring Jennifer Carpenter &
Directed by Jerry Zaks
I Was Gonna Win But Then
by Gina Femia
Featuring Paola Lázaro
Directed by Taylor Reynolds
I’m a Winner Not a Loser
by Xavier Galva
Featuring Arian Moayed
Let’s Save the World
by Michael R. Jackson
Featuring Diane Lane
Directed by Leigh Silverman