When Nwandu wrote the play “Pass Over,” she was thinking about Trayvon Martin, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and the book of Exodus in the Christian Bible. While this might sound like a random blend of inspiration, the concept works so well that “Pass Over” leaves audiences both moved and horrified, confronted by the reality of what happens when a society systematically prevents a group of people from progressing.
In 2012, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot in a tragic incident that has been attributed to nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In “Pass Over,” Nwandu threads this idea through the theme of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play about two people waiting for something that never happens. The two main characters in Nwandu’s play are young black men Moses and Kitch. Moses (Jon Michael Hill) believes it’s time that he and his friend Kitch (Julian Parker) get off their block and pass over into the “promised land”—a parallel to the Moses in Exodus, who was given the task of bringing God’s people into the Promised Land. However, every time Moses and Kitch try to make their move, gunshots go off and they fall onto their stomachs in fear of the police. Their fear is great and real; they talk about all the people they know personally who have been killed, and the list is far too long.
Part of the way through the play, Moses and Kitch meet a seemingly naïve white stranger (Ryan Hallahan), and both parties are just as wary of the other. This encounter marks the beginning of a downward spiral that culminates in a shocking end to the play. Nwandu says, “At its core, this play asks us collectively to consider the value of black lives, specifically the lives of young black men who are not extraordinary… They’re young men who might never get better, who might never be different. This play challenges us to envision a society that does not ask these young men to prove their worth.”
Nwandu’s script is just as effective as the performances of the main characters, from the intense Moses, to the goofy Kitch, to the stranger who sets off warning bells from the beginning despite his overly affable personality. The 80-minute play flies by in a mix of emotional conversation and playful banter between the two leads, and the more sinister undertone of police brutality and its effect on young black citizens in the U.S.
Photo courtesy Steppenwolf.