What: Moses and Kitch, two young black men, pass the time on an empty street under a lamppost, sleeping in shifts, sharing a hoodie and keeping watch. When the night comes, they banter, they dream, they plan for their escape to the promised land, and they keep alert for any passing policemen - the only danger they fear, and one that keeps them trembling. Per the program, this play takes place "Now. Right now. But also 1855. But also 13th century BCE ... A ghetto street. A lamppost. Night. But also a plantation. But also Egypt, built by slaves."
And? The program includes an insert with a note from playwright Antoinette Nwandu, listing some of the play's influences. Waiting for Godot, obviously, makes the list. Also listed are Exodus 7-12, Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th, Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine, and the "Dashcam Video of Philando Castille Shooting." This play has a lot of humor and heart, but there is no escaping that it is fundamentally about institutionalized violence against black men. And there should be no escaping that confrontation. It needs to be confronted. As I left the theater, I saw two women discussing it: the white woman asked the black women what she thought; the black woman raised her eyebrows and said wryly that it was nothing she didn't already know. If theater is a place for creating empathy, then this is a play that more people, especially white people, need to see. The fear that keeps Moses and Kitch trembling and still, arms raised, at just the hint that a policeman might be near, is as shocking to some as it must be self-evident to others. Empathy must be built, both in the theater, and especially in the world, so that the same helpless rage fills everyone, when Moses demands of the policeman, "Stop killing us!"
Not listed among the influences, but another clear reference, was the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood; and as I watched, I thought of how stories about the Big Bad Wolf led to wolves landing on the endangered species list. A creature is labeled a menacing predator and a danger to all, is hunted, is killed. Here in Pass Over, a white man (a walking embodiment of optimism, he sings "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin" with no irony, confident that "everything's goin' [his] way") accidentally wanders onto Moses and Kitch's block, carrying a picnic basket full of food for his mother. But it is clear that Moses and Kitch fear his presence far more than he could ever fear theirs (also, notably: the red hood in this case is the hoodie shared by the two men).
Clearly this play gave me many thoughts. It's devastating. It's excellently crafted and carefully built. Nwandu is a gifted voice directed impeccably by Danya Taymor. The three actors, Jon Michael Hill, Namir Smallwood, and Gabriel Ebert, are perfect. The design, too, is brilliant, simultaneously pointed and subtle (Wilson Chin, Sets; Sarafina Bush, Costumes; Marcus Doshi, Lighting; Justin Ellington, Sound).
|Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood as Moses and Kitch. |
Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
7/05/18: Log Cabin
What: Speaking of empathy, that's a capitalized word in Log Cabin, which tracks the friendship between two married couples (two gay men, two lesbians) and their trans friend in the halcyon years just prior to our current administration. Tensions arise as empathy is tested and privilege is confronted.
And? In the context of the current Scarlett Johansson nonsense, I was very pleased to see that at least New York theater is making some strides, casting actual trans actors in trans roles. The play itself, while witty and quick-moving, left me a bit tired: I wouldn't want to be friends with any of these people, competing to see who is the most marginalized, who has the least privilege.
|Ian Harvie, Dolly Wells, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Phillip James Brannon,|
and Cindy Cheung as Henry, Jules, Ezra, Chris, and Pam.
Photo by Joan Marcus.