Review “Pass Over” (Steppenwolf Theatre): Didn’t Passover, Impaled Me!

POST PUBLICATION NOTE:  I want to take this moment to apologize. In my original review of “Pass Over”, I used a word in my review that I should have never used. I never meant to be insensitive or disrespectful. It was a reaction to the poetry of a play that profoundly touched me. Please don’t allow my mistake to take away from this production. Everyone should see it. It should start conversations for its powerful message. I have received guidance from several sources pointing out the extent of my mistake. I’m grateful for people helping me understand my ignorance. I remain embarrassed and contrite by my actions.

Steppenwolf Theatre presents the world premiere of PASS OVER.

Wow, Ms. Nwandu, wow! This show ran me over and dragged me bruised and bleeding to its gasp-worthy conclusion. The virtual reality was a hard one. I left marred and spinning in my emotional wreckage.

Upon arrival, we are greeted with mid-century musical tunes. They’re possibly the whitest songs ever conceived. A visibly agitated Julian Parker (Kitch) paces the stage. The music sets the tone. This is a white world. This is a white theatre. And Parker doesn’t match the aesthetic. He knows. We know. The discomfort starts immediately.

Playwright Antoinette Nwandu gives us an intimate and volatile glimpse into the lives of young black men. These two guys are living on the street. They are struggling to survive. The likelihood of that becomes increasingly and disconcertingly palpable. Nwandu spills out their stories in a colorful, urban poetry. The dialogue is pure street slang. 

Under the masterful direction of Danya Taymor, Jon Michael Hill, Parker, and Ryan Hallahan (Mister/Ossiferthe) are extraordinary. Hallahan plays multiple white characters. His presence, even when he is sharing a picnic lunch, is disturbing.  The rhythm of their interactions is sometimes playful, sometimes dire, always authentic. Hill and Parker are the focal point. They navigate us through their ‘wild west’ reality. Their banter is often interrupted by gunfire. They respond to the intrusion by quickly dropping to the ground. In between shots fired, the men unravel their grim past and future prospects. Their relationship endears as war buddies in the trenches. Their tireless performances are amazing.    

At my show, there was a standing thunderous ovation followed by the most quiet theatre exit I’ve ever experienced. Everybody filed out in deafening silence. Although the performances and the show are extraordinary, I didn’t stand and applaud. I felt dazed. I felt ashamed. I felt outraged. I felt helpless. I felt paralyzed. Nwandu’s story shoved me on a street where I don’t live. And she left me there to grapple with the truth. PASS OVER didn’t pass over me. It impaled me.

Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission

At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted

Written by Antoinette Nwandu

Directed by Danya Taymor

Thru July 9th

 Tickets ($20-$89) are available through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or steppenwolf.org.

Production photos by Michael Brosilow

For more information and reviews on Chicago theatre, visit Theater in Chicago.

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