Dance in Review

The producers at Steppenwolf describe Pass Over as a “riff on Waiting for Godot” – and that’s true - except for this: Pass Over is not boring. In fact it is gripping and entertaining for every one of its 80 minutes of run time.

Written by Antoinette Nwandu and premiering under the direction of Danya Taymor, Pass Over is at once funny, alarming, sickening, and frightening. With shades of Master Harold & the Boys and Miss Margarita’s Way, it portrays two young inner city black men – Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker)  hanging out under a street lamp, hoping to get off “the block.” To say these two give knock out performances is an understatement.

Like Groundhog Day, each morning they resume the wait, their hours punctuated periodically by gunfire, and the appearance of the menacing policeman Ossifer (Ryan Hallahan in a searing performance; he also plays the white-suited Mister) whose role is to dispel their hope, and keep them in their place.

Moses and Kitch are condemned, suggests Nwandu, to be “waiting for Godot” their whole lives. Unlike Beckett’s duo, Moses and Kitch are not abstract constructs, but real people. The warmth and mutual fealty of these two young men captures your heart through their amusing word games and youthful horseplay.

Nwandu also plumbs the depths of the emotional link between Moses and Kitch, and we bear witness to their bond. As in Beckett’s play, these characters form a suicide pact, but cannot do it.  

They survive, somehow, and hope returns repeatedly – even against all odds. But the two never escape, either, and Pass Over faces us with our contemporary social challenge. By making Moses and Kitch so accessible to us, by humanizing them, Nwandu brings a fresh immediacy to the lament, that Black Lives Matter.   

Pass Over is both timeless, and a powerful commentary on contemporary conditions. Into this piece, Nwandu has squeezed a book. Fully deconstructed, it could easily fill a college semester of study.

Part of the vaunted excellence of Beckett’s 1953 Waiting for Godot - an existentialist reverie on the seemingly endless insufferableness of life, and perhaps the meaningless of that suffering – is that the audience also experiences the ennui of that endless wait, in real time. Frankly it’s a bore.

Not so with Pass Over. It is fully realized in this production. I might quibble with the end of the play – it seemed heavy handed from a first viewing. But I am going to have to trust and respect the playwright's and director’s judgements, given the excellence of all that comes before. The performances by Hill and Parker in fact are so perfectly delivered, hopefully it is exactly what the playwright intended – because it is tremendous. It runs through July 9 at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Published in Theatre in Review

As Samuel Beckett once stated, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. ... Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh anymore.” Unhappiness and the complete surrender to misery is found aplenty in Beckett’s Endgame now being performed at The Den Theatre and though humor can be found in the dialogue and in the mundane actions of its characters, we can’t help being overwhelmed by the story’s hopelessness.    

The set is almost too good – the interior of a nightmarish, dilapidated house complete with a water-stained ceiling, worn, dirt-filled walls that are peeling, boarded up windows and bottles of urine lined up in the rear of the living room. The characters are as dilapidated and bizarre as the house. It is a dwelling of utter neglect – something you might imagine that has gone terribly wrong in the B.J. Gigglesnort hotel or perhaps a home you might expect the family from Texas Chainsaw massacre to live in. Director Halena Kays explains, “Our design team is full of long-time collaborators who will create an absurdist landscape that will involve and heighten the audience’s experience with this classic.” Not only is the set visually lush in itself but the theatre is decorated with hanging lighted picture boxes, a seating area that closer resembles a birthday party and carnival-like assortments scattered throughout the floor.

This one act, four character tragicomedy stars Kurt Ehrmann as the aging “Hamm” who is blind and cannot use his legs. He is bound to a makeshift wheelchair comprised of a beat up sitting chair atop a wooden cart with wheels that he obsessively insists be placed in the center of the room. He whistles for his caregiver “Clov” (Brian Shaw) to whom he barks one order after another and in his despair of existence is always asking if it is time for his next painkiller. “Clov” too is broken down, a creature of compulsive routine. When asked by “Hamm”, who recognizes the verbal abuse he so often dishes out, why he doesn’t leave, “Clov’s” response is simply “Where would I go?” It’s hopelessness at its best.

Ehrmann skillfully rips into one soliloquy after the next with rampant passion and we laugh at his anguish yet are haunted by his words at the same time. “Hamm” often speaks with his parents who appear from two garbage cans while “Clov” uses a kaleidoscope to check the on goings by the sea through a small, exposed portion of window that he can only access by hobbling awkwardly up his stepladder. In all, we see a frightening story of two decrepit men who have completely lost touch with anything normal about life who are trapped with each other and feed on pain and bleakness. And, in true Beckett fashion, we somehow find humor in that.

The Hypocrites production of Endgame is playing at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park through April 4th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.the-hypocrites.com.

*Photo - (left to right) Kurt Ehrmann, Brian Shaw and Donna McGough in The Hypocrites production of ENDGAME by Samuel Beckett, directed by Halena Kays.  Photo by Evan Hanover.

  

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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