Taymor’s production could hardly better support this vision. Although I was initially disturbed by how strongly she insists on comedy – given the almost ritualized clown, it was not surprising to see Bill Irwin credited as a moving consultant – he is It soon became clear that leaving humor to its full potential does the same for terror. Pushing the two extremes further, often letting them spill over into the theater with winks and shocks, Taymor asks audiences to accept her role in the story and perhaps her complicity as well.
She also shaped the performances, which were already excellent three years ago, into something that seems to go beyond acting. Like Laurel and Hardy, who were surely among Beckett’s role models for his bums, Hill and Smallwood have a sort of antichemy that brings them closer together the more they bicker.
Hill, as befits a character named Moses, has the heaviest burden of a vision to fulfill; you can see his body resisting the weight and then wonderfully, if only temporarily, lifting it. Smallwood, as Kitch, the epitome of a pesky younger brother, knows exactly how to get under Moses’ skin because that’s where he needs to be for his safety. For both, “Can you feel me? Is almost a password.
Of course, when Monsieur hears it, he doesn’t understand. “I’d rather not do it,” he says.
As Sir, Ebert pulls off the virtuoso trick of making the obdurate both strange and charming, at least for a while. But watch him try to sit up at one point, his lanky body turning into an expression of hypocrisy as he winds in one direction and then slumps in the other. Later, when Ebert returns as the tough and unyielding Ossifer, you barely know him and you sure don’t want him.
Ossifer is not so much a caricature as a collection of sadistic tropes of police officers. Yet Nwandu’s larger vision makes the choice to write it this way more than an expedient. Without ever forgetting its origin in American racism, “Pass Over” extends to all forms of -ism, including that, ultimately irrefutable, of existentialism. She asks not only why black men must live in fear of having their bodily integrity stolen, but also why all humans must do so, regardless of their age and location.
And if she waffles a bit towards the end, never quite making the last jump across the river, she still lets us swim in the hopes of doing so. After all, as the roar announced at the start of the show, we’ve already started to skip over some things; the existence of “Pass Over” on Broadway is proof of this. Dare we hope that at the dawn of a new season, new promised lands will also be possible?
Tickets Until October 10 at the August Wilson Theater, Manhattan; passoverbroadway.com. Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes.