Oscar E Moore

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PASS OVER – reopens on Broadway – Proceed with caution

September 14th, 2021 by Oscar E Moore

Going to see this production at the August Wilson Theatre on September 11 – a day of remembrance was eerily strange.  It was a beautiful day.  PASS OVER was to be my first show since my forced sabbatical from reviewing.  Broadway had been shuttered since March 2020.

My very first Broadway show on a class trip in 1960 was A THURBER CARNIVAL which ran at this same theater then known as the ANTA.  What I remember most vividly was The Last Flower.  Deep into the 95 minute intermission-less PASS OVER a small plant ironically blossoms.

Opening night was August 22nd and this audacious production received some wonderful reviews.  It is not a new show.  The Chicago 2017 staging had been filmed and directed by Spike Lee.  A revised version by its author Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu was produced by Lincoln Center in 2018.  And now it is one of the first shows to reopen the Great White Way.  Some more irony as the play is about two homeless black men.

The staff at the August Wilson must be commended.  They are well organized.  Extremely kind and careful.  Checking Vaccination Cards and Photo ID’s before having its patrons pass through a metal detector and into the theatre wearing a mask where a strange cacophony of music played prior to the curtain going up on a stark and simple street scene with an oversized lamppost center stage.  This object, as the play progressed brought to mind something sinister.  I kept imagining a noose.

No wonder our two main characters are wary.   Jon Michael Hill is Moses.  Namir Smallwood is Kitch.  They are alert and afraid.  Especially of the police.  Watching and waiting for whatever.  With nothing but time on their hands.  They share a great rapport.  Sometimes speaking rapidly in an Abbott and Costello riff on “Who’s On First?”

A strange sound?  Hands above heads.  Both fantasizing a better life.  They share a similar vocabulary.  Same experiences.  Same fears.  And body movements.  As staged they could be mirror images of each other – Yin and Yang.  Kitch wanting to be killed and Moses wanting to be anywhere else but where they are.  Hoping for a better life.

Be forewarned – the word nigger is bandied about with abandon like a shuttlecock in a game of badminton in this bold and provocative take on race relations.

The direction by Danya Taymor runs the gamut from inspired to insipid.  Over the top theatrical to an old fashioned sing along.  Bill Irwin is Movement Consultant.  His unmistakable style adds tremendously to the production.

Into their world, a non-white man’s world, wanders Mister – a sensational Gabriel Ebert.  He is lost.  Dressed all in white looking like a friendly Good Humor Man with a picnic basket to bring to his ill mother.  He disrupts their lives while adding lots of humor and relief to one and all.  Mister’s (or is it Master’s) picnic spread is reminiscent of the old clown car circus routine.  Where from a small object comes an infinite variety of objects.  A magical highlight.

But there are lots of dull spots in between until Mr. Ebert returns as Ossifer – a dangerous, threatening Officer Krupke type character who winds up beating on himself, a feat somehow conjured up by Moses and Kitch.

Then it gets murky.  It seems that no one knew exactly how to end PASS OVER and perhaps suggested – “When in doubt – get naked” (including body mic apparatus – which somehow muffled much of the dialogue throughout) and tag on a happy, hopeful change of scenery finale.

This is where my aforementioned flower blossoms; the set transforms into a Promised Land version of Eden and Ossifer and Kitch separately walk off into the sunrise bare assed as Moses hesitates.

Will he join them?  Will life be better?  That remains to be seen.  After all, nothing is guaranteed in life.

PASS OVER is ultimately unsatisfying despite the excellent acting.

Through October 10th.   www.passoverbroadway.com

Photos:  Joan Marcus

NOTE – I decided, out of respect to those killed at the Twin Towers and the reopening of Broadway that I would revert to wearing a navy blue blazer, beige trousers, crisp shirt and a favorite tie and try to look my best under the circumstances.  I soon felt like an alien.  No one was dressed for the occasion.  Nary a tie in sight.  Anywhere.  Dressing up seems to be out of style.

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