Monday, July 16, 2018

Review - Pass Over

One of my favorite theater blogs will put up a ghostlight when it seems as if she's not going to post for a while.  Maybe I should do that, too.  I have an enormous work event coming up and I've been hoarding my energy and saving my money lately, so I'm sorry to have been so scarce.  I did see a show last weekend and I have a few coming up, so we'll see if I need to put the ghostlight up anytime soon...

I did want to report on the show I saw last week, since it's closing next Sunday and I think everyone needs to see it asap - I went to see Pass Over, produced by LCT3.  Full disclosure: I know the playwright and I saw an early version of this play produced a few years ago.  But even with the full disclosure of my history, I still was completely bowled over and gobsmacked by the play.  It's one of the most exciting, fearless, horrifying, moving, topical, and provocative plays I've ever seen.  I was simultaneously laughing, crying, and holding my breath throughout the night.  Some spoiler-y language may follow.

For the tiniest bit of background, Pass Over was done at Steppenwolf last season and one of the reviews caused a huge stir.  If you have a New York Times subscription, you can read about it HERE.  It caused such a stir that Spike Lee was inspired to see it and he decided it needed to be filmed immediately, so you can actually watch a filmed version of that Chicago production on Amazon Prime.  I do know that the play has been through some rewrites since Chicago, so what you watch on tv will not be the same as the power punch I saw last week at LCT3.

Antoinette Nwandu, the playwright, has written a political play for our times, using fresh and topical language alongside familiar structures and play references - I definitely saw an overt homage to Waiting for Godot, in some flavors in the set and in the use of repetition and hopelessness.  Pass Over introduces us to Moses and Kitch, two young African-American men who live on this particular street corner.  Their fear and dread are always present, but also their quick wits, their resilience and their affection for each other.  You can tell that a lot of the word games they play with each other are games they play each and every day, then, periodically, the lights shift and you see the young men raise their arms in fear.  Fear of the police.

photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
Pass Over is a play that puts directly in front of you the danger that young African-American men constantly face from the police.  There is a policeman character in the play, but there is also another unsettling character, a seemingly benign white man who says he's lost and wants to chat and rest for a moment.  I found that character utterly terrifying - the rest of the audience laughed at him a little too long, I think.  Not that he wasn't saying some funny stuff, he was, but I guess I felt underlying menace too soon.  I was so scared of him, I started to cry pretty early.

You think you know where a play like this is going to go and you would be wrong.  It is completely original (even with the Godot references) and completely unexpected.  The dialogue is absolutely thrilling.  My heart raced throughout and I just hung on every word, every double- or triple-meaning behind what was being said.  I feel this is one of the most exciting plays I've seen in a really long time and I hope it has a terrifically long life.  I hope the reason the play is so topical right now becomes extinct (seriously, when will white men realize their lives are not the most important??), but the experience of seeing this play will never be out-of-date.  In my opinion.

photo credit: Jeremy Daniel
The acting was simply fantastic by all three actors: Gabriel Ebert, Jon Michael Hill, and Namir Smallwood.  They were just all electric and real and in the moment.  They all had lightness and darkness and were totally committed to the world Antoinette has created.  The production is also fantastically directed - even the pre-show music of Golden Age Broadway show tunes was a genius touch that started off unsettling us just a bit.  The set, lights, and costumes are also first-rate.  I really can't recommend Pass Over highly enough.  It only runs for another week, so you should run over to Lincoln Center's Claire Tow space and check this out.  You won't see another play as in tune with what is happening in America right now, I'm guessing.  Oh, and I forgot to mention, there was a talkback with Antoinette after the play and it was just grand.  This was one of the best theatergoing nights I've had all year.  I so look forward to more success for Pass Over and more attention for Antoinette Nwandu.  They both deserve it.

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