After 29 years of marriage – and, more to the point, ten months of Covid lockdown together – Gale (Becky Ann Baker) tells her husband Perry (Dylan Baker) she needs a breather, in “The Narrows,” one of the dozen short new plays and one play excerpt in the sixth edition of The Homebound Project, online until Sunday.
Perry: Did you meet someone?
Gale: Did I meet someone? Where would I meet someone? We haven’t left the house for months except to get to the supermarket?
Perry: What about the computer? You could’ve met them online
Gale: With our wi-fi? I can barely open my email, how could I have an affair?
“The Narrows” is ultimately a charming two-character comedy, just slightly longer than seven minutes, that is the latest of the many short online plays written since the shutdown began by David Lindsay-Abaire, who comes closest in my mind to the pandemic’s playwright-in-residence. His play differs from most of the others in this collection, which are largely pointed or poetic monologues .
But almost all of them have something in common. Although the “prompt” was “2021,” almost none of the dramatists took the opportunity to imagine the year ahead. Gale might be wearing a silly 2021 New Year’s hat, and want to break away, but to her as to many of the other characters, 2021 simply feels like a continuation of 2020, in which they (we?) feel stuck.
“It’s a new year, and yet often the challenges and suffering of this time are still overwhelming,” Sting says near the end of the 100 minute video, right before making a pitch to contribute to No Kid Hungry (for which The Homebound Project has raised more than $150,000.) Afterward he sings “Soul Cake” to cheer us all up.
In the one play that imagines the future, “Sand and Snow,” written and directed by Adam Rapp, Michael Chernus portrays a middle-aged man attending his first play in what sounds like a couple of years (not an optimist, Mr.Rapp), a grim business involving just a dozen theatergoers, each separated by plexiglass. The production stage manager, the man tells us, is armed with a pistol and demands the audience surrender their cell phones – which is probably not meant to be funny, but felt like the one prediction sure to come true (the cell phones, not the gun.)
Perhaps Brian Otaño’s play is meant to glimpse the near future, although it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s happening now. In “close your eyes and count to ten,” Nicholas Gorham portrays a newly minted landlady renting out one of her mother’s apartments on the Upper West Side for one to three weeks so that people can quarantine.
Several of the plays depict characters who seem determined to do something to beat back 2020 but aren’t quite sure what.
In Kate Cortesi’s “I love parties,” Emily Kuroda portays a woman of a certain age who resents being seen as a “vulnerable population,” and tells her unseen companion a story that convinces her (or at least us) that she’s anything but.
Of less persuasive mettle is the young man, portrayed by Babak Tafti in Colette Robert’s sly “Notes from a Survivalist,” who is determined to live out in the elements to show he is ready for anything, but the elements are limited to his backyard.
In Catya McMullen’s “She’s a leaper,” Eden Malyn is overwhelmed by all the suffering around her, and can only think to revert to childhood, and behave like a horse, trying to leap over her furniture.
The most present of the plays in the sixth edition is “Essential,” written and directed by Julissa Contreras, starring Daigi-Ann Thompson as Shawnee, a woman laid off from her hotel job because of the pandemic who now works as a deliverer for Amazon. While she delivers packages to apartment after apartment, sharing an elevator with someone not wearing a mask, getting a rare thanks by one customer, she’s talking on AirPods to her cousin Kim, “code switching,” as she herself calls it, whenever someone is in earshot — “this is the border of the fake boujee Bronx.” Alone with Kim, she more or less surveys the year she (and everybody else) had — the economic distress (“Nothing seems to last in my hands”).the police shootings (“more names, more excuses”), the change from public gratitude to indifference (“when’s the last time you heard a pot bang?”), the school shutdown (“don’t see why I can’t get a slice of that teacher’s salary the way Tyler got me out here like Morgan Freeman in Lean on Me. It’s too much! ….I gotta be the parent AND the principal?”) But for all the ways 2020 continues to encroach, Shawnee has (what she doesn’t call) some New Year’s Resolutions for 2021: “Right now, I’m about my health, my spirit, my son, and leveling up that tax bracket sis; I can use a partner.” Thanks to script by Contreras (who also had a short play this week in the African Caribbean Mixfest) and Thompson’s performance, it’s a rich enough five minutes to make you want to check out how Shawnee’s doing later in the year — Homebound Project # 7 perhaps?