Under a stark city streetlight, two homeless men, Moses and Kitch, are stuck in the same spot, in the same worn and dirty clothing, repeating the same routine, day after day. While dreaming of the “promised land,” they live in fear of the “po-po” (police) that terrorize and brutalize them, have killed so many others, and have them convinced that they’ll be next – unless they can figure out a way to “pass over” to a better life.
Lincoln Center Theater/LCT3’s production of Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over, directed by Obie Award winner Danya Taymor (Heroes of the Fourth Turning), is already one for the history books, as the first play to open on Broadway, on August 22, 2021, at the August Wilson Theatre, following the COVID-19 shutdown since March 12, 2020. And that’s not the only reason for its renown.
The three-hander’s extended sold-out New York premiere at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater received Off-Broadway’s 2019 Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, and the present Broadway transfer reunites the full critically acclaimed cast and design team. But despite its previous success, the original ending has since been reworked by Nwandu to reflect our current post-pandemic time and the growing spirit of hope offered by the vital Black Lives Matter movement.
Inspired by Samuel Beckett’s existentialist masterpiece Waiting for Godot, the Book of Exodus, and what’s happening on street corners in America now, the script is a powerful fusion of all three, with an impactful theme, an affecting message, and an acute awareness of the cycles of history. While the characters’ contemporary urban street language and movements, costumes and locale firmly establish the setting as today, insightful references abound to other times and places in which minority populations were targeted for discrimination, abuse, poverty, and slavery (be it actual or socio-economically systemic).
Yet along with the story’s fundamental dramatic tension and heartbreaking tragedy, there is also a sense of profound camaraderie, absurdist humor, and vibrant joy, as the two men joke and quarrel, engage in vaudevillian-style clowning, sing apropos show tunes, and provide friendship and support for each other as they plan an escape from their dismal situation. And though Moses has become angrier and more untrusting than the amiable good-natured Kitch, both are eminently likeable, and both are played to perfection, respectively, by the masterful Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood. Their brilliant characterizations are brimming with humanity, making us empathize with their pain, care about what happens to them, and root for a happy outcome – while fearing the worst.
Rounding out the superb cast as counterpoints to Moses and Kitch is Gabriel Ebert in the dual roles of Mister – the hilarious stereotype of a clueless white stranger who accidentally comes upon the men, tries helping and befriending them, but does everything laughably and infuriatingly wrong – and the sadistic racist “Ossifer,” who viciously attacks and threatens them, just because he can, or until he is stopped by a greater force.
The stellar writing, direction, and performances are supported by Wilson Chin’s shifting mood-setting scenic design, character-defining costumes by Sarafina Bush, surreal lighting by Marcus Doshi, and evocative sound by Justin Ellington. And Nwandu’s newly revised, more optimistic outcome of the potently moving play inspires us all to do what we can to make hope and salvation a reality for everyone – not just on stage, but in society. This is theater that matters.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 40 minutes, without intermission.
Broadway is committed to providing healthy and safe facilities for audiences, performers, and staff. Based on current CDC and New York State, protocols include mask enforcement, increased cleaning and ventilation/filtration enhancements, vaccination or negative test verification, and other measures as developed by the theater owners in conjunction with the State. All requirements will clearly be communicated to ticket holders prior to the performance.