Justin William Davis (Moses) and Jeffrey Rashad (Kitch) in
Photo by Evan Krape.
a stark examination of race with the play, Pass Over, by award-winning American playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu. Pass Over is a loose amalgamation of the classic Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett) and the Book of Exodus told in a modern urban setting.
“It’s a spiritual and existential story,” says Hassan El-Amin, REP company member and director of Pass Over. “It’s a story of love, joy, hope, despair, longing, friendship, family, social conditioning. Pass Over is multilayered.”
Nwandu began writing Pass Over after the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Floridian Trayvon Martin and the outcome of the ensuing George Zimmerman murder trial. Nwandu channeled her feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration into this compelling, unfiltered play.
Word of caution: This is a mature show with adult language and scenes of violence, including gun shots. While the bawdy talk sometimes feels gratuitous, there is contextual relevance in the vernacular Moses (Justin William Davis) and Kitch (Jeffrey Rashad) use to describe their seemingly never-ending situation.
Moses and Kitch appear to exist in a state of purgatory, where their days are fruitless and tedious due to their lack of initiative and impulse. Police choppers fly over their corner of Martin Luther King and Freedom Drives while the two pals make top ten lists of what their dream lives would entail.
But an odd white man (Mic Matarrese) in a suit and boater hat interrupts their usual discussions. Mister (or “Master”) disrupts whatever semblance of constancy the two black men had in their patch of the city. Challenges of norms by Mister and verbal provocations by both sides take the action to heightened levels. Matarrese (as Mister) is excellent at pushing Moses’ buttons while Kitch somehow sees positives in what the visitor represents, even though there are cultural chasms and significant distrust between them.
Visiting actors Davis and Rashad do a beautiful job of switching from wistful to defensive to brotherly to defiant. The roles must be fully embraced to spew the sorts of emotions Moses and Kitch feel throughout the show. REP company member Matarrese plays his roles of Mister and Ossifer — a policeman — with a certain menacing poise. He must walk a thin line between the huckleberry lost stranger Mister and the no-nonsense Ossifer.
To reveal dialog and plot direction in this review would be a disservice to the writing and performance of the company. During this play, both the journey and destination are worth deep evaluation. The ending was affecting and sudden. Many remained in their seats absorbing what had just happened.
Nwandu has embraced revising Pass Over’s ending to continue to engage with the current events and audience. “Each time I go back with this play, I ask, ‘What’s happening in the world? Who’s actually going to be in those seats?’”
Acknowledging that having multiple Pass Over scripts offers multiple interpretations, Nwandu encourages theaters to use the version that fits the needs of the specific community. “I now have three versions of this play from this era of American history,” says Nwandu. “If your community needs the angry version, then do that. Present whichever version you need.”
“To be able to put this play on stage in 2024 when it was born in 2012, shows you the power of the story,” says director Hassan El-Amin. “But it also shows you how far we have to go to overcome whatever this sickness is, this disease, we have when it comes to the value of life for African Americans in the United States.”
Pass Over is an emotionally charged and powerfully impactful story that brilliantly blends modern poetry, Biblical verse, and funny modern refrains. Kudos to the creative team at the REP: El-Amin (Director); Stefanie Hansen (Scenic Designer); Jo Fulmer (Costume Designer); Eileen Smitheimer (Lighting Designer); and Ryan P. McGinty (Sound Designer).
Performances of Pass Over run from February 8 through 18 with Opening Night being February 9. Informal talkbacks with the cast take place following the evening performances on Saturday February 10 and Thursday February 15. Tickets prices are only $20 with discounts available for students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.rep.udel.edu; by contacting the REP box office at (302)831-2204; or visiting in person at 110 Orchard Road Tuesdays through Fridays from 12 to 5 PM. The show runs approximately 85 minutes.
The Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts is located on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus and is ADA-compliant. It is equipped with a hearing loop system, which works with hearing aid t-coils, cochlear implants, and in-house hearing devices. Wheelchair and other seating requests can be made prior to the performance by calling 302.831.2204 or emailing email@example.com.
“You are men and you are free to go.” – Kitch