Waiting for the Host

by Marc Palmieri

PANGDEMONIUM has had a quiet year since its production of The Son in February. The company had to postpone its two other productions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and kept fans warm by releasing free archival footage of its past productions. 

Written just months ago and specifically designed to be performed through Zoom, Waiting for the Host, by American playwright Marc Palmeiri, is the company's first online production. It's a quirky comedy-drama about a group of parishioners, led by the earnest Reverend Theo (Adrian Pang), who, in the middle of the Singapore circuit breaker, are trying to stage a theatrical reading of the Passion play for their church website. As the group battles lockdown and loneliness, they try to find faith in the little things. 

The cast do a decent job in inhabiting the various characters, ranging from Effie, a forgetful older lady not especially savvy with technology (Neo Swee Lin); Sarah, a flighty Screen Actors Guild-hopeful actress (Mina Kaye); and Vincent, her high school sweetheart and now football coach (Gavin Yap). Neo's overly enthusiastic attempts to inhabit her character are downright hilarious; she struggles to focus the camera on her at the start and later enthusiastically describes attending a funeral livestream. A 'kiss' between Vincent & Sarah, is cleverly played as the two actors edge to the sides of their respective screens.

Yet, the script itself, which is set in the small church milieu of Long Island, feels awkwardly transplanted to a Singaporean setting with the stray local reference thrown in. The sluggish second half does not quite manage to sustain one's interest even as things veer into existential territory. Coming in October 2020, when things in Singapore have reached a certain sense of normalcy, this depiction of lockdown life also feels somewhat dated and far less immediate in its impact. 

Director Tracie Pang, who has shown herself to be a master of the well-made, Broadway/West End-style play, seems rather unable to deal with the script's attempt to strive for verisimilitude with the banal Zoom experience. One feels a strange disconnect watching the cast trying to replicate everyday life but at the same time playing as if they were on the stage, complete with hammy voices, perfect lighting and crisp audio. The energy which normally comes through so strongly in a PANGDEMONIUM production feels fairly muted here, making for a fragmented and occasionally frustrating experience.

I discuss this production in more detail in the Arts Equator theatre podcast, together with playwright, poet and editor Nabilah Said and theatre educator Matthew Lyon.

The Crystalwords score: 2.5/5


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