PASS OVER at the August Wilson Theater by Celia IpiotisPhoto by Joan Marcus: Jon Michael Hill, Gabriel Ebert, Namir Smallwood
September 9, 2021
On a warm fall evening in NYC, the line to the August Wilson Theater moved with great dispatch. Masked audience members produced vaccination cards and ID before entering the theater, perhaps for the first time in 17 months.
Excited theater-goers photographed playbills next to their faces and scanned the theater before applauding the opening seconds of Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu's jolting Pass Over viscerally directed by Danya Taymor and starring Jon Michael Hill (Moses), Namir Smallwood (Kitch), and Gabriel Ebert (Master/Ossifer).
Under the harsh light of a single streetlamp, Moses and Kitch joust and macho strut actively slinging the N-word at each other. Wearing homeless attire--dirty sweats and baggy jeans (by Sarafina Bush) -- the two men champion existential hopes for the future infused by embodied demons from the past. They taunt each other with rhymes and lift their spirits by recounting 10-best lists. Are they traveling forward, backward and or stuck in place?
After one of the "best 10" matches, a tall, lean man dressed in a white suit appears. He's holding a basket that's meant for his grandmother? Punctuating his non-aggressive, gentlemanly language with a slew of gosh, golly and gheez exclamation points, the white man in white invites Moses and Kitch to a picnic.
Like a "horn of plenty" the lavish lunch items materialize one after another from the basket--including, but not limited to-- bottles of wine, a pie, chicken and turkey legs. When the stranger reveals his name is Master, Kitch and Moses fail to accept it as just another name.
Master's interruption kicks up the already animated energy level, and after Master starts to sing Louis Armstrong's famous song What A Wonderful World, Moses and Kitch join their voices to Master's crooning like old-time doo-woop groups gathered under the corner streetlight. And the audience erupts in applause.
At a little over 90 minutes, the actors fiercely tangle with ghosts and magical thinking constantly complimenting each other in physical and vocal style. More percussive, Moses's hardness, and steely ideas pop against Kitch's lyricism fluidly morphing from one mental position to another. After Master leaves, another visitor arrives, perhaps the one they have been expecting but the ending is not necessarily the one we were expecting.
Haunted by drafts of centuries-old horrors, Pass Over rides into the future on the back of humor and human resilience. Pass Over is a drama for our time.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis