As the Philadelphia Live Theater stage reopens after a long pandemic drought, Antoinette Nwandu’s play Passes over, co-produced by Theater Exile and Theater in the X, brings together performers and a live audience to reflect on the tragedy of police violence against blacks.
Being outside as a community watching the action unfold on stage in a park – the work is done at South Philly’s Hawthorne Park – is a reminder of how we were alone dealing with our anxious thoughts during the physical isolation from the pandemic.
The gripping production, directed by Ozzie Jones, highlights what we missed.
In an 80-minute show without an intermission, the play tells the story of two young black men, Moses and Kitch, who constantly talk about their dream of, one day, finally leaving the block where they hang out. Beckett Waiting for Godot is an influence, as is the biblical story of the Passover.
It is a block that could be found in any city in the United States, where the violence of the police, but also of the community, consumes men with dread.
Moses (the versatile and often funny Jared Chichester) and Kitch (Davon Johnson, in an imposing physics performance) play a game, “the promised land” where they give the top 10 things they want when they “pass.” ” in Paradise.
The game shows how the two young men, in their late teens or early twenties, struggle with life in an intermediate world of childhood dreams and manhood:
Kitch wants a pair of Air Jordans that are not “new, but new” thrift stores.
In addition to sleeping on soft sheets with an yet to be found girlfriend next to him, Moses talks about having “my bright red superman kite,” a “drawer full of clean socks” and “my brother here with it. me, back from the dead. “
Moses and Kitch fear the violence that killed him and so many of their friends. At one point, Kitch lists about 25 men they know who were killed: “yo brotha; Ed the other night… stupid Terry, wall-eyed Terry, wall-eyed Terry’s cousin… Julio, Andre.
Moses intervenes: “Which Andrew? And Kitch responds “both”, before continuing the list: “man, I haven’t finished yet. “
While playing the game, they jump to the sound of police sirens. They wonder if the violence in their own neighborhoods, among young black men themselves, is some kind of exodus of this fear.
A strong third actor, David Pica, plays two white characters who meet Moses and Kitch in the neighborhood: Monsieur, a white man who got lost in their neighborhood, and Ossifer a policeman. As a gentleman, he’s old-fashioned and clueless. As Ossifer, he tells young men, for no reason, to assume the position of kneeling with their hands behind their heads: “Come on boy you know the exercise.”
In the outdoor setting of Hawthorne Park at 12th Street and Catharine Street, a passer-by looked dumbfounded as Pica approached the scene in her all-black police uniform, a prop gun by her side. But of course black men in city blocks across America are approached by police like this, relentlessly.
Moses and Kitch say repeatedly that they “give up dis-block”. They say they pass, but where: In heaven? Towards freedom? To death?
Like Beckett’s play, this Go over the production has elements of tragicomic slapstick. The laughter of the audience can get on your nerves in a play about such a serious subject. I felt that at first. But the work is ultimately powerful and the humor is intentional.
The people passing on the sidewalk next to the park were a bit of a distraction. It helped that the production provided headsets so that members of the audience, even in the back, could hear the dialogue.
Passes over, premiered at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago in 2017. A Lincoln Center production of 2018 will open on Broadway in August – the first show scheduled after the pandemic.
Until June 27 at Hawthorne Park, 12th and Catharine Streets. (Rain date, June 28). Tickets $ 25 (pay what you want on Saturday June 19). Information at 215-218-4022 (leave a message if you are unsupervised) or theatreexile.org.