Review: Redhouse Arts Center Presents the New York Premiere of WAITING FOR THE HOST a Play Created for Zoom

By: May. 29, 2020
Review: Redhouse Arts Center Presents the New York Premiere of WAITING FOR THE HOST a Play Created for Zoom
The company of Redhouse Arts Center's streaming World Premiere production of Waiting for the Host.
Photo by Hunter Foster.

Many theaters are all finding unique ways to still bring theater, concerts, and the arts to their audiences. Facebook live, Zoom, and other streaming services are certainly getting a work out as schools, theaters, performers, and many workplaces have all shifted online due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Redhouse debuted its first virtual play Waiting for the Host by Marc Palmieri under the visionary direction of Hunter Foster on Thursday, May 28, 2020 and it will be available for purchase and streaming through June 1, 2020.

This streaming play centers on a group of parishioners from a small church in Long Island. They are together via video conference. Father Theo (Steve Gamba) has gathered the group together on the Zoom style conference to record a theatrical reading of the story of The Passion to post on the church website. The Passion play is a tradition his congregation looks forward to and he is determined to continue the tradition. With the help of his son Ben (Brendan Didio), a college sophomore that is now back home with his parents due to the pandemic, Father Theo brings together a few of his parishioners and even a real actress via conference call to record the theatrical reading. As the recording takes place there is of course technological issues, some can barely work the program, exes quarrel, and the recording of the play proves to be difficult as emotions, anger, opinions, and depression take over. The stress of the pandemic is certainly getting to all of the performers in the play of The Passion in different ways. It is obvious as they stumble over their lines and voice their opinions on social distancing. They are all struggling with the loneliness, cancellations, fear, anger, uncertainty, selfishness they are seeing in people and the world around them. The clumsy lines and not most spectacular performance of The Passion brings a bond to the performers as they each reach a breaking point and use the conference and performance as a desperate prayer in this very relatable play.

Hunter Foster's cast is engaging, comedic, and refreshing. The performances are real and raw. Steve Gamba takes on the role of Father Theodore, a man determined to continue his churches traditional performance of The Passion. His performance is consistent, real, and memorable. His final lines are as real, raw, and relatable as you can get.

Jen Cody as Effie is a delight as usual with her spot-on comedic skills. Effie is that person that has issues working a video conference program, disappears on the screen, does not have the camera angled right, and so on. Cody also shows off a fun southern accent (I couldn't help but remember her voicework for Charlotte Le Bouff in the Disney film The Princess and the Frog) as she plays the animated character role. Although this character is very different from Charlotte, she still brings the laughs with the spunky personality. Her performance is a favorite.

Brendan Didio as Ben, the son of the preacher and college sophomore now stuck at home with his religious parents is a standout. Ben, according to his Father is the director of the play The Passion, mainly because he is the one editing the performances. He is consistent, sarcastic, and delivers an enjoyable performance as he attempts to direct and control this unique group that has gathered together in this socially distant performance via video conference.

Yarissa Tiara Millan portrays the role of Grace, a very hippie and free spirit. For the role she often stares in a dazed state at the screen, which is highly amusing and entertaining. Millan delivers an entertaining performance in the very care free role as she shows off her comedic chops.

Robert Denzel Edwards as Vincent, the ex of the actress that was invited to play Jesus, shows off his charm and superb line delivery skills in the role. Vincent was unaware that the young actress Father Theo found to play Jesus was in fact his ex-girlfriend Sara. The two seem to find a way in between the lines to discuss and bicker about their past as they attempt the recording of The Passion. Their banter is a rollercoaster of emotions for sure.

Marguerite Mitchell as Sara lights up the screen with her passionate, emotional, and real performance as Sara. Mitchell is often a standout on stage and the virtual play is no exception. Mitchell was an obvious choice for the opinionated and well-spoken role of Sara. Her consistent performance and virtual chemistry with the rest of the cast is a highlight as she delivers her standout performance.

Other credits for bringing this unique streaming play to life include Production Manager Daniel Whiting, Video editor and graphics Joshua Reid (some entertaining and not so perfect backdrops were used for the scenes where the cast records The Passion), and Production Stage Manager Margot Reed.

The fact that many theaters in the Central New York area and throughout the world are finding creative ways to bring theater to audiences and support their theater is truly exciting. A play such as Waiting For the Host, that was written and created to perform on Zoom, allows a new work, a new approach to theater, a new approach to performing, a new approach to directing to take place and it is definitely entertaining. The play does not disappoint. It is real, raw, and brings some much-needed laughter; exactly what theater is supposed to do. Do yourself a favor, go purchase the production to stream, support the Redhouse, and see some fabulous actors that often grace the company's stage bring a unique approach to performing under their determined and hardworking director Hunter Foster.

Running time: Approximately 40 minutes (stay until after the end credits).

The Regional premiere of Waiting For the Host A New Play Created for Zoom is available for streaming through June 1, 2020 for a $15 purchase that benefits the Redhouse Arts Center located in Syracuse, New York. The play is available at the Virtual Redhouse, click here.

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