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Broadway’s Back with a Bullet

By Naomi Serviss


“Mounting evidence shows that deaths at the hands of the police disproportionately impact people of certain races and ethnicities, pointing to systemic racism in policing.”


The Lancet, October 2, 2021


Last week I saw Pass Over,


Broadway’s first play to open


since the virus snuffed New York theater on March 12th, 2020.


It was a revelation.


Pass Over, running at the August Wilson Theatre,

is not only


an allegorical and literal explosion


of racism, poverty, and police violence

towards urban Black communities,


writ large.

This topically profound existential drama, by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu


sends up Moses’ Biblical pledge


to emancipated Jewish slaves


of reaching the Promised Land.


Pass Over deftly alludes


to the identically named Jewish holiday


with humorous cynicism.


Think Waiting for Godot tweaked with

Exodus and the Old Testament’s Moses

parting the Red Sea.


Director Danya Yaymore weaves parallel existences


with the banality of everyday, repetitive life

and magical thinking.




Actors John Michael Hill, Namir Smallwood and Gabriel Ebert


suck the oxygen out of the room


with every passionate diatribe or plaintive wail.


Not a breath is wasted as

the characters banter, spar and

word- and gun-play.


The bleak set, a grey study in shadowy

despair echoes the actors’ inconsistencies,

until a twist ending throws preconceived

notions out the window.


Break-your-heart acting,

elevated and devasting.


The audience roared when the play concluded,


even if there wasn’t blanket approval

of the N-word tsunami


to which they had just been exposed.


A perfect Broadway welcome-back-to-live-theater experience!


That’s entertainment!


Admittedly, I wasn’t thrilled when the beefy security team


vaccine-carded and photo-ID’ed me before allowing entrance.


Keeping a mask on for the play’s duration was at first uncomfortable,


but I quickly became used to it.


It helped that the theater was kept quite cold.


This is the new Broadway normal.


It could always be worse.


Masked patrons were well-behaved


and seatmate strangers


avoided knees and arm-resting elbows.


The inevitable foot banging

against my seat back was annoying.


A bare minimum of candy unwrapping

and thankfully, just one coughing bout.


The woman behind me gave an on-the-spot oral

critique


midway through the intense, intermission-less drama.

“Oh, come on!” she objected, loudly.


It wasn’t surprising,

considering it was a local crowd after all.


Tourists aren’t known to vocally protest dialogue.


As theater hopefully stays off life support


and tourists test the waters,


common courtesy mores might need refreshing.


If you are a guest,


never exclaim snarkily and loudly upon the first scene’s unfolding:


“I hate it already.”


That will be said guest’s last freebie,


even if she is a relative.


Broadway’s Pass Over’s limited run ends on October 10th,


but Spike Lee’s acclaimed filmed production


by the same name is available on Amazon Prime.



Broadway theaters have extended mask and vaccination requirements


for audiences through year’s end.


This will be re-evaluated in January.


The Broadway League announced


that operators and owners of all Broadway theaters


will continue to require


audience members, performers, backstage crew, and theater personnel to wear masks and be vaccinated before entry.


With proof.


Seeing rows of masked and fully vaccinated patrons was reassuring.

It wasn’t an ideal reopening, but

when the first line was uttered, my emotions were stirred

and I was grateful for those stashed tissues in my pocket.








Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com

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