BWW Review: PASS OVER at STUDIO THEATRE
Moses (Christopher Lovell) and Kitch (Jalen Gilbert) are marooned on the corner of their inner-city block. Dispossessed of time and place, they are subjected to casual harassment by two white men, the "Po Po" Ossifer and the creepy mama's boy Mister (both Cary Donaldson); entrenched in a never-ending cycle of existential dread. Moments of joy clash with the tragedy of their absurdist reality (like when they play "Bang! Bang!" and mime dying at gunpoint). The dichotomy of their youth and the reality of their circumstance is highlighted in their "Promised Land Top Ten", which includes a bunny, "new new" Air Jordans (not "thrift store new"), and the return of Moses' murdered brother.
Playwright Antoinette Nwandu's Pass Over weaves together myth, history, and cultural narrative, creating connections that span great swaths of time and space. Set within the framework of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Moses' name and his yearning for freedom, "to pass over", anchor Pass Over to the Biblical story of the Exodus, a recurring motif throughout the abolitionist, emancipation, and Civil Rights movements.
The most compelling and perhaps most challenging aspect of Pass Over is its dialogue. A former teacher, Nwandu found herself seduced (her word, not mine) by the use of the n-word in her classroom; the beauty and danger of it. Indeed the exchanges between Moses and Kitch are poetic, almost lyrical. By purposefully, frequently, and casually incorporating the n-word into her script, Nwandu issues the same challenge to her audience that she issued to herself as a teacher: judge these young men or love them where they're at.
Set Designer Debra Booth's immovable concrete island is desolate and visually arresting, its sole adornment a busted-up DC streetlight. A much-abused teddy-bear is taped to the streetlight in telltale in memoriam. The familiar DC streetlight anchors Pass Over to the community outside Studio Theatre's walls.
Tasked by their playwright with embodying a millennia of oppressed individuals from Egypt to the American South, Lovell and Gilbert riff off each other with ease and authenticity. And faced with representing the worst kind of white men, Donaldson demonstrates wide range.
This is not an easily digestible piece of theatre, which is probably why I am still chewing on it. Captivating with precision dialogue, Pass Over does more for its' audiences' edification in one hour than most playwrights are able to accomplish in two.
Pass Over is directed by Psalmayene 24. The Production Team is rounded out by Lighting Designer Keith Parham, Costume Designer Brandee Mathies, Sound Designer Megumi Katayama, Dramaturg Lauren Halvorsen, Properties Designer Deb Thomas, Fight Consultant Robb Hunter, and Stage Manager Autumn J. Mitchell, with Movement by Tony Thomas.
Studio Theatre's five-site free Community Tour of Pass Over will include facilitated talkbacks to process and explore the context of Nwandu's work.
Running Time: 70 minutes, no intermission.