My Review of “Pass Over:” A Play About Race And The American Dream

Full disclosure: I didn’t know anything about this play 10 minutes before I went in. I thought I was on my way to a completely different play, a comedy in fact, but there was a minor miscommunication and here we are, reviewing Pass Over.  I heard there was a controversial and scathing review of the play. I haven’t read it yet, but I will and I’m going to respond to that here too.

Spoiler alert, obviously.

My unbiased review: I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it either. 

For the first fifteen minutes of the play, I considered walking out. I heard more N-words in the first 15 minutes of that show than I’ve probably heard in the last three years combined and I am a black man with black friends and family who use the word. It was gratuitous, deliberately so, though that isn’t immediately obvious until later. So, for the first 15 minutes of the play, I sat stone-faced in a sea of largely white faces laughing at what, in my opinion, was an offensive caricature of black people — loud, cartoon-ish, n-word-dropping bums, always talking about their plans but never taking any action. Obviously, part of this is due to the “Waiting For Godot” influence.

True to that Godot outline, the play delivered a quality existentialist experience, weaving in a contemporary “urban” experience into a world of racism, strife and hopelessness, while the characters clung desperately to the dreams of a better life, only for hope to be dashed away repeatedly.

The actor playing Moses gave a great performance. He was funny, passionate, and commanding. In my opinion, he carried the play, and even transcended my initial misgivings about his character as a stereotype. I wasn’t as big of a fan of “Kitsch.” Again, his character embodied the buffoonery of a caricature of a black person throughout the play, so to some extent I can’t separate the actor from the character. My apologies. The actor playing the “out of place” white man and police officer, also gave a great performance.  His emergence was the first time I laughed during the play and pulled me off the edge of leaving my seat. He walked the line perfectly. His mixture of innocence, anger, and manipulation belied his role as a glorified “white devil” character type, making the story easier to get behind. Personally, I don’t love black and white character types and I am hesitant to embrace a character who is 100% any one way, especially in such a controversial context, but I think they managed to hold it together well-enough to convey a meaningful message.

I will leave my dive into the action there.

Final opinion: It’s worth a watch.

It’s gritty, trope-ridden, and, at times, hard to watch in the right and wrong ways, but it delivers a powerful statement about race relations and the Black American dream in modern times through the metaphor of Moses, the biblical character who lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, with a nod to Godot-style existentialism. You will leave the theater lost in thought and I think that was the writer’s intent. It is the start of a conversation, so see it and talk about it.

After reading the Chicago Sun-Times review of Hedy Weiss: 

I think Weiss’ criticism lacks a fundamental appreciation for metaphor and the representative aspects of a character playing a role. Her criticism is largely about the depiction of the white characters. That’s it. She felt the play cast “ALL WHITE” police officers in a negative light and was condescending to all white liberals, though she had no problem with the number of n-words dropped, nor did she care about the stereotypical depiction of the black protagonists, nor their strife or the admitted parallels to real-life race relations. No, just the depiction of the white characters.

Her article screams “all lives matter,” “blue lives matter,” and “but what about black on black crime,” as her review drifts away from the actual play and indicts real world Chicago crime, even citing specific incidents in the news, as if that had anything to do with the play, and as if black people are not allowed to ask for their lives to matter without first addressing all crime in black neighborhoods — the two are not interdependent.

To say the play unraveled in the pivotal last 10 minutes is to throw out every single meritorious point of the play because a white character suffered, briefly, (and lived) despite the heinousness of his actions throughout the play. It is the literary equivalent of justifying an officer shooting an unarmed black person even though the video evidence doesn’t support the defense.

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