When asked about her decision to stick with one of her scripts for five years, playwright Antoinette Nwandu merely replied, “I’m staying with it because the divine spirit continues to keep it in my life.” The result of this dedication, which included multiple revisions of the original Off-Broadway ending, is Pass Over, the first Broadway play to open post-pandemic as well as Nwandu’s Broadway debut (pretty divine if I do say so myself). Last month, I went with my mom to the August Wilson Theatre to see it before the official opening date, and I was not disappointed.
Pass Over tells the story of Moses and Kitch (magnificently played by Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood, respectively), two Black men who make it their mission to “make it” out of their block into a “Promised Land” of wealth, materialistic goods, and unlimited room service. This capitalistic idea of happiness already strikes a chord with how the American Dream is marketed: hard work equals money and money equals happiness, so anyone can make it as long as they commit to the hustle. Of course, both Moses and Kitch realize that to commit to the hustle, you need to conform to your fellow hustlers. Nwandu’s text brings up important questions– how do Americans manipulate language, accents, dialects, and even music to speak the language of the white ruling class? Is the American Dream actually an American Nightmare?
Many reviews have noted the influence that Samuel Beckett’s existentialist piece Waiting for Godot has on the structure of Pass Over — the two men seem to wait endlessly to pass over into the celestial Promised Land. However, unlike Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot, Moses and Kitch freely use AAVE, integrating a suave harmony into the dialogue which makes the text more engaging and original. Joy also exists boldly in Pass Over, so the white-eyed terror in Moses and Kitch’s eyes that arises whenever the neighborhood police patroller enters the stage is just as terrifying for the audience. White supremacy, as it often does in the real world, continually disrupts the safe spaces Black and Brown folks create for themselves. Pass Over asks if it is possible to find a Promised Land where joy is impenetrable, and where jubilance cannot be interrupted by the relentless American Nightmare.
Leela Kiyawat is an eighteen year old award-winning playwright and theater artist from the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has been produced with Playground SF, the Ashby Stage, the Youth Uproar Theatre Company, and TheatreFirst, among others. Leela currently attends Fordham University and is earning her Bachelor’s degree in Playwriting. She loves FKA Twigs, goldfish crackers, and riding the BART train.
More of Leela Kiyawat’s work in Mixed Mag:
Diverse Theater Programs Are a Must (Issue 6)