The first Broadway play in over a year, Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu Go over tells the story of two young blacks dreaming of a better future in a world of police violence.
ARI SHAPIRO, HTE:
Tonight, for the first time in nearly 17 months, a new play premieres on Broadway. Called “Pass Over,” it combines elements of existential drama with the Bible as it watches two young black men dreaming of a better future in a world of police violence. Jeff Lunden reports.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu loves to mix things up.
ANTOINETTE CHINONYE NWANDU: As an artist, I’m always looking for a remix, a collage. I think this is one of the main gestures of the late 20th and early 21st century. I love R&B, I love pop. No one is doing anything new. How do we remix it into something that feels right now?
LUNDEN: And “Pass Over” is a play that absolutely feels right now, even though Nwandu started writing it after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Raised in the church and trained in the theater, she created her own. own collage.
NWANDU: And so I’m setting here as an artist, and I say, on one side, I have the Bible. I have the story of Exodus which I love. On the other hand, I have “Waiting for Godot”. The Trayvon Martin case is unfolding before me. As a black American am I saying, justice is coming, justice is coming, justice is coming or do I say, oh, my God, America is the biggest plantation I’ve ever seen?
LUNDEN: So Nwandu generously samples both from the Bible and from “Waiting for Godot”. In this play, two tramps pass the time on a blank stage while waiting for a character who never comes. “Pass Over’s” two central characters, Moses and Kitch, want a better life beyond their corner but cannot pass. Jon Michael Hill plays Moses.
JON MICHAEL HILL: Why can’t these guys go? I imagine it in a way as a force field made up of red lines, income inequalities, educational inequalities. What are the options? There are not any. I mean, there’s also the policeman patrolling the block.
(EXCERPT FROM THE GAME, “PASS OVER”)
HILL: (As Moses) You’re going (ph) to get up from this plantation, get up from this block. Then we’re going to walk – walk to that Jordan River. It’s going to be deep. It will be wide. And we’ll stay there like – as chosen, like [expletive] this world is never seen.
DANYA TAYMOR: There’s this nice constant tension in the room. Like, is this guy Moses or is this a guy called Moses?
LUNDEN: Danya Taymor directed “Pass Over” in Chicago, where Spike Lee filmed it, and off Broadway. Now she’s directing the Broadway version.
TAYMOR: I think when you watch it, you know, up to a point, you’ll have the same question.
LUNDEN: The cast say it was one thing to do the play a few years ago, but now, in the midst of the pandemic and after George Floyd’s death, their perspective has changed. Gabriel Ebert plays two white characters: a racist policeman and a rich man who has wandered the neighborhood. In previous versions, the rich man kills Moses in the closing moments of the play.
GABRIEL EBERT: When we first did it, there seemed to be some kind of shock among white Americans, especially liberal progressive white Americans, that, how do these things still go? And we wanted to wake up the public. Over the past few years, I think the events that have been filmed have woken up audiences.
LUNDEN: And so for the Broadway version, playwright Antoinette Nwandu made the decision to change the ending of the play.
NWANDU: I can’t make an ending that I can’t see in my mind. And while Trump was president and there was no vaccine and George Floyd was assassinated, lynched, I couldn’t see another ending.
LUNDEN: Now things are different.
NWANDU: Now I can imagine an Afro-futuristic ending to my piece that exists within the confines of the world I’ve already created where this young black man could actually live.
LUNDEN: For NPR News, I’m Jeff Lunden in New York.
(FROM TEEN DAZE’S “HIDDEN WORLDS”)
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