Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Pass Over
Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of The Amateurs


Christopher Lovell and Jalen Jamar Gilbert
Photo by Margot Schulman
Pass Over, the current production at Studio Theatre in Washington, crowds an amazing amount of insight and theatrical imagination into a compact, 70-minute package that demands to be seen. Playwright Antoinette Nwandu has created an entire world—actually, several at once—on a single city street corner, animated by director Psalmayene 24 and grippingly enacted by three magnetic actors.

Nwandu explained that she grounded her vision of young African-American men in two archetypal stories, the biblical tale of Moses leading the enslaved Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and the two aimless men in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The tension between liberation and waiting drives Moses (Christopher Lovell) and Kitch (Jalen Jamar Gilbert) as they hang out on Debra Booth's set, a triangular island of concrete with a street lamp, fraying stuffed animals and dying flowers that remain from a memorial for a shooting victim, and a rusty metal crate that provides a place to sit. Keith Parham's dim lighting casts shadows on the pitted wall behind the free-standing corner set.

The two men have complementary personalities, Moses showing a determination to do something (whether or not it happens) and Kitch's looser, goofier attitude. Mostly, their bond is simply that they will always be there for each other. Lovell exemplifies Moses' take-charge side and his efforts to move forward; Gilbert comes across as less structured, comfortable with making silly comments and serving as Moses' wingman. They both seem to be constantly in motion.

Moses and Kitch tell each other dark jokes about the deaths they have seen, interrupted by offstage sounds of gunfire, and banter and argue in a poetic, musical cadence (heavy on street slang) about the future they might find if they can leave the block. Sometimes, Nwandu plays with language, as when Moses talks about crossing a river to escape the corner (as the biblical Moses parted the Red Sea) and calls his comment a "megaphor." At other times the men share their fantasies of the promised land just out of their sight: Moses thinks his brother will return from the dead and meet him there, while Kitch imagines room service in a fancy hotel suite.

The dynamic changes with the arrival of Mister (Cary Donaldson), a deceptively soft-spoken white man in a pale tan suit and hat, carrying a picnic basket, whose surface na├»veté confuses Moses and Kitch. This encounter leads to a more combustible run-in with Ossifer (also Donaldson), the neighborhood policeman.

In conjunction with the run of Pass Over, Studio Theatre has scheduled dramatic readings of the play followed by facilitated talkbacks at neighborhood sites throughout the Washington area.

Pass Over runs through April 12, 2020, at Studio Theatre, Metheny Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-332-3300 or visit www.studiotheatre.org.

By Antoinette Nwandu
Directed by Psalmayene 24

Cast:
Moses: Christopher Lovell
Kitch: Jalen Jamar Gilbert
Mister/Ossifer: Cary Donaldson


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