Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of Lydie Breeze Trilogy part III: Madaket Road
Most of the action takes place in country X, which has for some years been colonized by country Y. Native born residents live and work alongside ex-pats from country Y, but they are far from equal under the occupying regime. Tensions are already running high when we meet B (recently named best native doctor in country X) and his friends. B, H, and M engage in an intellectual discussion about whether someone native to country X can ever be friends with someone from country Y, but the issue becomes urgently practical when B is accused of attacking a recent arrival.
Although it is inspired by the classic 1924 novel "A Passage to India," Passage is explicitly detached from time and place. There is no historical context for the events unfolding on stage. Even the characters names are deprived of ethnic and cultural affiliations. So, how does he do it? How does Chen use an exotic inspiration and fantastical setting to reveal something so fundamental to this particular moment in our nation? By pushing aside the preconceived notions and personal baggage that come with a discussion of "racism in America" and instead focusing on the basic human impact of extreme power imbalance. Chen gives us the opportunity to see what the abuses of authority we accept as given would look like without historical explanation or justification. It is a remarkably effective tactic.
Blanka Zizka directs the superb cast, bringing Chen's vision to life with uncanny grace. The audience cannot help but empathize with B's (Lindsay Smiling is magnetic) confusion and frustration. Taysha Marie Canales successfully marries seething rage with intellectual honesty as uncompromising H. Krista Apple and Justin Jain illustrate everything wrong with well-intentioned allies as enlightened F and earnest Q. Sara Gliko stands out as professor G, but is also remarkably convincing as a curious mosquito and an inscrutable gecko. Matt Saunders' stark set and Maria Shaplin's dramatic lighting design's evoke a place so alien it might as well be a completely different world.
If you are interested in honestly exploring the power imbalance affecting people of color in the United States, Passage is a must see. If the idea of honestly evaluating the impact of those power dynamics makes you uncomfortable, see it anyway. The questions Chen raises are of vital importance to all of us and the stakes are too high to look away.
The world premier of Passage, through May 13, 2018, at The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets visit visit wilmatheater.org, call 215-546-7824, or come by the theater.