THEATER: Pass Over BROADWAY: August Wilson Theater
Premise: Two young black men, Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Namir Smallwood), seem to be forever stuck on an urban street corner near a lamppost in an unnamed city (but supposedly in Chicago). Like the tramps in the post-apocalyptic landscape in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” they pass the time with rituals and storytelling which always lead the conversation back to their dream to “pass over” into the promised land, inspired by the namesake of Moses. But they are scared to death (literally) to move on because of the white policemen (embodied by Gabriel Ebert) who patrol it. “Same shit, different day” is the mantra.
My Take: I saw the play when it played off-Broadway at Lincoln Center with this same cast (the play from an earlier Chicago production was filmed by Spike Lee and is currently on Amazon Prime). The performances have grown deeper and more urgent. However, playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu has decided to rewrite the play, especially the ending for Broadway, and while it does add a touch of hope to the rather bleak original ending, what transpires during the last fifteen minutes sort of feels like validation of why Southern slaveowners were so willing to let their slaves have their religion: suffering will lead to salvation. Nwandu’s choice, is a bold one, but I feel the literalization may have taken away from the power of the suffering that was so well portrayed in the first part of the play.
VIP: Jon Michael Hill, who many will know as police detective Marcus Bell in the TV series “Elementary,” has made the role of Moses his own. I believe his fear, his courage and his humor in the choices he makes for Moses. Overall, the acting by the company of three is excellent (Ebert also plays a dandy who happens upon this corner in a sort of Little Red Riding Hood way), but it’s Hill that makes the play as powerful as it is.