There’s No PASSing this OVER.
It’s been almost a year since my last visit to the theatre. My existential wait to return was freakishly mimicked by the plight of the characters of Pass Over.
Pass Over, a play written by Antoinette Nwandu, another stellar black female playwright, is on at the Market Theatre as part of their annual Black History Month catalog.
This hybrid homage of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the story of Exodus from the Bible, combined with the weighty subject matter of the Black Lives Matter movement, creates a tragicomedy of epic relevance in our current socio-political climate. The play was written and inspired by the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and could not be more appropriate after a turbulent year which saw the death of George Floyd spark worldwide protests and activism in support of Black Lives Matter.
The narrative follows the day-to-day lives of two young African Americans stuck in an existential cyclical void (expertly created on stage by set designer, Nadya Cohen and Lighting Designer, Mandla Mtshali) where their desire to “pass over” to the promised land is abruptly halted by the ever-present threat of police brutality and encounters with white men.
As opposed to a country road and tree (as in Waiting for Godot), Kitch and Moses find themselves on a street corner overshadowed by a street lamp but with not much else in sight. The set had beautiful moments of transformation, with multimedia images on screens and projections on the floor, stunningly rendered by AV Designer Thabang Lehobye.
The sparseness of the set leaves room for the incredible talents of Hungani Ndlovu (Kitch) and Khathu Ramabulana (Moses) to soar in the open space. Their chemistry is undeniable and at times left the audience with the biggest of smiles – even in the darkest of moments. Speaking to artistic director at the Market Theatre – and director of the play – James Ngcobo after the opening night performance, he mentioned how he and the cast took a walk through Zoo Lake, observing the beggars in order to learn their way of life. This resulted in some incredible insight into the process the actors followed in order to embody the hopelessness of Kitch and Moses.
The events of the play are properly set in motion upon the arrival of the first of Charlie Bouguenon’s characters, an “all white” figure (pun intended) that reminded me of Django Unchained’s Calvin Candy – syrupy sweet with a very, very dark side. His second character, a stereotypical white racist American police officer (complete with donuts), left the audience holding their breath as the fates of our two courageous pessimists were left in the hands of one who should be there to “serve and protect”.
The poignance of the play comes to the fore when the voice of Donald Trump reverberates around the theatre at the end, as his bid to make America “great again” is in direct contrast to the hopes of our two existential heroes.
This is powerful Theatre. Relevant Theatre. Must-see Theatre.
It’s safe to come back to the theatre. Ngcobo spoke strongly his desire to keep the Market Theatre from staying dark, and to have the opportunity to tell these rich stories on stage once again.
Pass Over is on at the Market Theatre until March 28th. Tickets are available at the box office and on the Market Theatre website.