Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Pass Over: Paradise Delayed or Delivered?

Pass Over is a relatively young play, returning to Broadway just a few years after the original ran in 2018. For those of you that saw that version, or the Spike Lee filmed version, the ending is very different. I didn’t see either of these (although I confess to watching the end of the Spike Lee version afterwards), so I came to it with fresh eyes.

Huge credit must be given to the playwright, Antionette Chinonye Nwandu, for crafting a play that is both funny and profane, both tragic and comedic, influenced by the defeated and hopeful.

Jon Michael Hall and Nair Smallwood in Pass Over

The profanity, the banter and the pathos are delivered by the characters Moses and Kitch, portrayed by the wonderful and heartbreaking performances of Jon Michael Hill and Nair Smallwood, respectively. These two men are stuck in place and time where the value of the black men matter less than the comfort and lives of the Police.  Police that act like violet overlords that pass though their lives, bringing pain and humiliation, only to pass back out again.

Moses and Kitch pass this day seemingly like every other, falling back into jokes and daydreams of the paradise that awaits them should they “pass over”. Pass Over to somewhere outside the confines of their lives, somewhere lovely and always just out of reach. They can accomplish this either through physically leaving their situation or by dying and going to heaven. (The parallels with Waiting for Godot are intentional, until they aren’t.) Ms. Nwandu has more to say about the life of her creations and their dreams. Including have a man named Moses trying to lead his friend off the bock.

Why can’t they just leave the block? Is it inertia or the Police and the system of justice that is committed to the status quo? Hint, it’s not inertia.

Into their daily routine, on this day, a white man walks into their neighborhood, all gee whiz attitude, blazing white suit, smiles and needing help.  He brings with him a picnic he wants to share or leave with the men. Kitch is all for sharing the food and company, while Moses sees the offer, and subsequent spread, as offensive and patronizing. The visitor (played by Gabriel Ebert) feeds and entertains the two, until he decides to leave abruptly.

A member of the police arrives later in the day to intimidate the men and force a submission that is almost animalistic in its mental and physical cruelty. A palpable sense of dread then encompasses the play and the theater.

Gabriel Ebert, Jon Michael Hall, Nari Smallwood

But finale of Pass Over has been changed to reflect the times. And the times, with demonstrations for Black Lives Matter and a recognition of Police brutality, have changed. And the changes work. Danya Taymor directs this piece with clarity, purpose, and a deft hand. But it is the performances that you remember, long after you leave the theater. Pass Over is thought provoking, uncomfortably funny and a must see for theater lovers.


Pass Over
PlaywrightAntionette Chinonye Nwandu | DirectorDanya Taymor | CastJon Michael Hill, Nair Smallwood. Gabriel Ebert