If Alexandra Petri’s “Connect!” – which opened Round House Theatre’s weekly web series Homebound – was a prologue, then Karen Zacarías’ “Human Resource” offers some rising action, ratcheting the series way up with sweet notes and a laughable setup for next week’s show that makes me ready to come back for more.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Episode two opens with video snippets of our (fearless? nervous? TBD?) hero Maboud (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) wandering a familiar seeming ghost-filled street where an “Events” sign announces nothing. The opening updates episode one: Maboud engaging in more extreme-sport hand washing. The requisite temperature check now upgraded with a fancy ear thermometer. Some deep freezer diving and frustration: NO MORE ICE CREAM. All this scene setting silent and perfectly conveying the stark solitude, the quiet triumph of tiny wins. The madness of minor losses. This is pandemic life.
Maboud lies on his couch surrounded by empty food containers. Unwashed dishes. He looks pale. Maybe unshowered.
Then, Alina (Alina Collins Maldonado) from HR calls to discuss his furlough and assure him he’s still a valued member of CFS. She’s staying with (and working from) her parents’ home, and it shows as she dons a baby blue hoodie and periodically shouts back at her mother in Spanish. While her frustration manifests in subtly funny ways, Maboud springs to life at the sound and sight of her. He switches the call from his phone to his laptop where he can see her better (and bigger), and we see his screen’s sticky notes.
COVID GOALS: Shower once a week. Draft Appeal Memo re: Furlough. Pay Utilities (Electric higher than normal). LIFE GOALS: Promotion, Increase 401k to goal, New car, Serious relationship.
Maboud, we all feel you. And, more importantly, Alina feels him, as she tries to work her way through the HR script she must use when talking with furloughed employees.
“Screw HR. Screw CFS,” she says, crumpling some paper. “I’m personally worried about you.”
“Why?” he asks.
“Maboud, you sent me a text at 2AM.”
Indeed. A playlist titled “Alina! Alina! Alina!!!” of songs about…loneliness and pining for love. Like, “I Say A Little Prayer.” Dionne and Aretha versions, just in case. And then, he proceeds to pull up the lyrics and serenade Alina before rambling about the bygone days of lunches and happy hours with “the gang” and all the laughs they had.
Alina, looking equal parts shocked and flattered as she tries to process this one-part awkward love confession and one-part awkward love-denial, reminds Maboud that he rarely attended group outings because he worked non-stop. Then, she tells him that Craig (who fumbled with a potato filter in the first week’s show) has been scheduling Zoom happy hours and that he should attend.
Maboud adds “KILL CRAIG maybe” to his COVID GOALS, and then won’t commit, even though next week’s theme is Gilligan’s Island, and Alina is going as the Professor (preach).
I’m genuinely intrigued as to why Maboud’s not definitely in. His good buddy, Craig, is hosting. The girl of his dreams, apparently, is going (and as the sexiest character, male or female, hands down). He’s just talked about missing human connection, and he seems genuine in that, not just pining for Alina. He has nothing else to do, as he’s furloughed.
So, what’s the catch? Will he or won’t he? How will COVID-19 play into this? Let’s not forget, Maboud has been exposed (during a conference for a job that then immediately furloughed him). And, he’s not out of the woods yet.
“Human Resources” makes for a delightful 13-minute entry in this little adventure. Karen Zacarías’s episode has raised the stakes. Now we’ll need to tune in next Monday when playwright Farah Lawal Harris picks up the story.
“Human Resource” written by Karen Zacarías. Directed by Ryan Rilette and Nicole A. Watson. Featuring Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Alina Collins Maldonado. Produced by Ryan Rilette and Ed Zakreski. Edited by Johnny Monday. Round House Theatre’s Homebound is an original web series that explores life under Stay-at-Home orders in the Nation’s Capital. Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.