Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The play was a bit of a sensation when it opened on Broadway last summer, and not merely because it was one of the first shows to appear after the pandemic shuttered the Great White Way. Profane yet poetic, it challenges expectations with its use of classic theatrical tropes and comedic elements to tell such a dark tale.
From the very first moments, Pass Over echoes the structure of Waiting for Godot: two characters sparring with each other in clipped, rhythmic language that often turns back on itself in repetition or mirroring, the characters' seeming lack of drive (but no lack of desire), all taking place on a mostly bare set with a single point of focus. In Godot, Beckett called for "A country road. A tree.," while Pass Over has an urban street complete with curb cut and a street lamp that sometimes flickers menacingly, symbolic perhaps of a crumbling infrastructure where Moses (Edward Ewell) and Hitch (LeRoy S. Graham III) live.
They talk about their dream of getting to a "promised land" where surely life is sweet. They play a game together of naming the top 10 things that will define this promised land for them: new shoes ("not thrift store new"), "a penthouse suite, champagne on ice," a girlfriend, a brother killed by police brought back from the dead. As they banter, Moses pays little attention to Hitch, instead staring mostly into a middle distance above our heads, as if scanning the horizon. For danger? An opportunity? An escape route? Hitch, meanwhile, bounds about the stage like Tigger, with an energy that is undeniable, but un-channeled.
Despite his scanning, Moses and Hitch are taken aback by the appearance on stage of a white man named Mister in an even whiter three-piece suit. (I heard the name as "Master," though the program says otherwise. And "Master" would take the racial tension–already high–to another level entirely.) Mister, played with a rubbery unctuousness by Adam Roy, would seem more at home in Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley than here, so polite and naïf is he, making very liberal use of phrases like "gosh" and "golly" and "gee whiz," like a Radar O'Reilly dropped onto a corner in Compton or the south side of Chicago.
It's all very odd and funny in a somewhat uncomfortable way, with Mister opening a picnic hamper to lay out a feast like something Moses and Hitch might fantasize about during their game of "Top 10 Promised Land." Like Little Red Riding Hood, Mister was on his way to his mother's house but "got turned around," and now he doesn't want to be any trouble at all. In fact, he's somehow managed to pack an item that was on Moses' top 10 list: collard greens with pinto beans.
But when Adam Roy returns as Ossifer (a "po-po" as Moses and Hitch call the police), things turn dark indeed. Forced to their knees, and worse, Ossifer reminds us of the power structure that exists outside the space these men have created for themselves on this street, an authority that canand often doeskill men like Moses and Hitch with regularity and impunity.
For all their grand dreams of champagne and caviar, Moses and Hitch are going nowhere. The deck is far too stacked against them. Rather than play the game, should they throw in their hands, or play until the cards are taken from them? Sadly, Nwandu's script never adequately addresses what might be the future for Moses and Hitch, but it certainly isn't a penthouse suite or a country manor.
Pass Over runs through February 20, 2022, at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Sundays at 7:30pm, with matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets range from $25-$60. For tickets and information, please visit marintheatre.org or call the box office at 415-388-5208.