As New York City inches toward post-pandemic life, Broadway houses have started to book their first productions for whenever theater returns. The newest: Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s drama Pass Over, directed by Danya Taymor, which will reopen the August Wilson Theatre. The drama focuses on two Black men, Moses and Kitch, stuck on a street corner, with references to Waiting for Godot and the book of Exodus, and unsettling encounters with sinister white men. Pass Over premiered at Steppenwolf in Chicago in 2017, where Spike Lee filmed it for Amazon Prime. Then, later, a revised version was produced at Lincoln Center Theater, directed by Taymor, in 2018. The Broadway production will reunite the LCT team, making for both Nwandu and Taymor’s Broadway debuts, but will also feature a revised version of the script.
Pass Over is one of a few plays directly about police violence, as our critic Helen Shaw noted last summer, though its approach will change on Broadway. “I’ve asked myself: when the state-sanctioned murder of Black people in the United States remains visible and routine, and the world continues to reckon with the loss, trauma, and alienation caused by the global pandemic, how do I meet this moment?” Nwandu said in a statement. “Though much about Pass Over remains a lament over the lives of Black people stolen too soon, I am happy to confirm that my team and I, along with our producers, are presenting a new version that centers the health, hope and joy of our audiences, especially Black people. We are re-uniting to envision this play again, to tell a version of the story on Broadway where Moses & Kitch both survive their encounter with white oppression.”
The producers of Pass Over haven’t announced dates for the play’s limited engagement. As of now, pretty much everything surrounding NYC theater is in flux anyway. Mayor Bill De Blasio announced last week that the city would “fully reopen” July 1, while Governor Cuomo tried to one-up him by saying that he would loosen all pandemic restrictions May 19 without much guidance for theaters. Broadway operates at such a scale that shows are not expected to return until this September, around when the Tony Awards might finally happen, though no one has set any concrete dates yet.
Pass Over is one of a number of works written by Black artists with plans to premiere as performances resume, after BIPOC theatremakers made calls for change last summer. The others include Roundabout’s production of Alice Childress’s Trouble in Mind, Manhattan Theater Club’s staging of Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues, a revival of Melvin Van Peebles’s Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, Keenan Scott II’s Thoughts of a Colored Man, and the Michael Jackson musical MJ, written by Lynn Nottage. At the August Wilson Theatre, Pass Over will replace the stage musical adaptation of Mean Girls, which closed during the pandemic.