Life after death is a comedy in 'The Hosting'

October 14, 1994|By Patrick Hickerson | Patrick Hickerson,Contributing Writer

Don't worry about the afterlife -- it's a comedy.

That's according to one version of the final reward offered by Columbia resident Bob Racine, who's written "The Hosting."

The two-act play will be performed for the first time tomorrow by the Kittamaqundi Theater in Columbia with two performances next weekend.

Mr. Racine describes his play as a comedy and fantasy with all of the action taking place after the main character, Charlton Mays, has shaken his mortal coil.

Charlton -- Chip -- is a conceited songwriter killed in a car crash who finds out that he does not land in the heaven, hell or oblivion of his preconceptions.

Instead of big, puffy clouds suitable for pedestrians, it's a deserted room with initially only a younger man, David, sharing it.

Chip compares their situation to Jean-Paul Sartre's hell in "No Exit," no inferno, just people locked in a room. He also finds that all of his musical knowledge and abilities have left him.

"I'd say it's a comedy with a little touch of absurdism," Mr. Racine said. "It's an irreverent comedy of ideas with a little dark aspect, not massive though."

Chip and David later meet Liddy and Trina, two women who enter the space.

"There's a religious aspect to it. He does confront God, but it's bizarre and unusual," Mr. Racine said.

"It's not an illustrated sermon. It's a piece of drama that encompasses any religious concern."

The play is directed by Herman Kemper of Woodbine, who is a workshop conductor at Vagabond Theatre in Fells Point. He's pTC acted in 50 major roles during the last decade on stages in Baltimore, Washington and Columbia, including the Kittamaqundi Theater.

He said tomorrow's play is both off-beat and farcical but noted: "None of us has ever seen the afterlife. It's what could be."

Mr. Kemper describes the stage design as a "simplistic, practically bare stage," and adds that the result is a "focus even more on characters' interaction."

The stage remains the same through the two acts.

The cast of 15 is topped by Baltimore actor and writer Robin Holt as Charlton with Rick Millman as David, Fern Buford as Liddy and Sheryl Williams as Trina. The rest of the cast is filled mostly by members of the Kittamaqundi Community Church congregation.

Mr. Holt has performed Shakespeare locally and has written a book on Shakespearean acting.

Ms. Williams, a Cockeysville resident, said that the biggest deviation from the script is a younger, early 20s, Trina.

"We took it in a different direction," she said. "There are always changes, things that evolve, especially when you do it for the first time."

She said rehearsals, which began in August, have involved a lot of synchronized movement.

"It's really a lot of blocking. You'll hit your mark and then you've got to be out of there fast," she said.

So far, she has praise for the director. "He's a perfectionist, but he's not a tyrant," she said. "He is really one of the best working directors in the area."

Kittamaqundi Theater performances take place in the 80-seat Oliver's Carriage House, a renovated stone barn. The theater was established in 1982, when Mr. Racine joined the nondenominational church.

Since then, the theater has performed more than 15 plays including works such as "I Never Sang for My Father," "A Thousand Clowns" and "Fools," a Neil Simon work.

"The Hosting" will be the highlight of theater month, so declared by the 25th anniversary committee at Kittamaqundi Community Church.

The blend of theological and dramatic at the church is the perfect mix for Mr. Racine, a native of Norfolk, Va.

From 1963 to 1967, he was a minister at a Baptist church in Scranton, Pa. He reviewed movies for "Mass Media Ministries," a Baltimore religious publication, from 1965 to 1975.

He works for Hittman Materials and Medical Components in Columbia, which manufactures parts for pacemakers.

Mr. Racine has acted locally for Columbia Community Players and New Stages. Five years ago, he wrote "I Heard You Downstairs," a somber play about suicide.

He finds very little mystery in his writing style.

"It starts with the vision, which you get first. Then you write what's in your head," Mr. Racine said.

The Kittamaqundi Theater will present "The Hosting" at 8 p.m. tomorrow, Oct. 21 and 22 at the Kittamaqundi Community Church Oliver's Carriage House, 5410 Leaf Treader Way in Columbia. Admission is $6. Information: 997-2260.

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