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.”
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,
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.
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!
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
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.
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