Review: “Pass Over” in Mill Valley

Uncomfortable. Amused. Depressed. Angry. Confused. Challenged. Hopeful.

Those are all states of mind and emotions I experienced while sitting in the audience of Pass Over, the Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu play that’s in the middle of its West Coast Premiere run at the Marin Theatre Company. The show that reopened a pandemic-shuttered Broadway runs in Mill Valley through Feb. 27.

Edward Ewell, LeRoy S. Graham III

Moses and Kitch, two young, black men (Edward Ewell and LeRoy S. Graham III), are hanging out on a street corner in an unnamed urban city. Whether it’s a corner, indicating options, or a dead end, indicating the lack thereof, isn’t clear. What is clear is that these men have been here before, and they’re looking to get out.

They spend most of their time dreaming of what life will be like and of the things they’ll have when they reach the “promised land”, but like the characters from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (a strong influence on the play) it’s clear that will never happen.

Or will it?

The glimmer of hope that the play concludes on is a modification from the play’s original 2017 ending, perhaps in response to the Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements. Anyone seeking some insight into the necessity of those movements, particularly in regard to the relationship between the black community and law enforcement, need only attend a performance of this Kevin R. Free-directed show.

You know that queasy feeling you get when you look into your car’s rearview mirror and see a police car behind you and your mind leaps to the thought of an increase in your insurance premium?  A devastating scene in the play where the men recite a seemingly never-endling list of their friends, family, and acquaintances who’ve been killed by the police makes clear what a luxury it is to only think of the financial impact resulting from an interaction with law enforcement.   

Nwandu’s exploration of the black experience cleverly spans millennia while focusing on the here-and-now. As such, the characters’ dialogue is peppered with the “n” word to the tune of hundreds of utterances. Much like how your ear adjusts to the dialogue in an alternative-language film, the context in which the word is used and its meaning to the characters soon becomes clear.

Pass Over is a glimpse into a world that will seem foreign to most but, in reality, is the world in which too many live.

‘Pass Over’ runs Tues – Sun through Feb. 27 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tues – Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $10-$60.  Masks, proof of COVID vaccination, and ID required. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne

This review was originally published in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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