Juxtaposition of Joy and Violence in Broadway’s New Hit, Pass Over

In its newest rendition, playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu and director Danya Taymor bring Pass Over, the theatrical combination of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the Book of Exodus, to new heights of morbid hilarity. This existential drama is the first to grace the stages of Broadway since its forced shut-down during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the reviews are outstanding.

Pass Over follows two young Black men, Moses and Kitch, played by Namir Smallwood and Jon Michael Hill, attempting to “pass over” the difficult circumstances of their lives within a police state unto “the promised land.” The topical and significant story is one close to Nwandu’s heart; “community care is integral to my work and my positionality in the world as a Black woman,” the ICM Partners client reflects in an interview with Theater Mania. “Once that self-care is locked in, community care becomes a practice and way of life.” Her dedication to increasing representation empowered Pass Over to play with elements of comedy and tragedy, as the Harvard graduate’s subtly stinging language faithfully illustrates the juxtaposition of joy and violence that permeates these men’s lives.

Nwandu pushes the play past tragedy and lets the story’s innate surrealism fully develop in a daring and self-consciously theatrical way. The same can be said for director Danya Taymor. In a review from The New York Times, “Taymor’s production could hardly support that vision better.” Taymor allows humor and terror to have full reign, as she pushes both extremes forward, letting them spill into the theater. “Taymor asks the audience to accept its role in the story and perhaps also its complicity.”

Many creatives have brought Pass Over to life, including ICM Partners’ client and Oscar-Winner Spike Lee, who brought stage to screen in his 2018 adaptation. Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s version offers a unique ending, and one that has been designed to provoke reflection and empathetic consideration of the future.

Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s Pass Over opened this past Sunday, August 22nd, and is showing through October 10th at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City.