‘Pass Over’ opens as first play on Broadway since coronavirus pandemic began

Entertainment

This image released by Lincoln Center Theater shows Namir Smallwood, foreground, and Jon Michael Hill in a scene from “Pass Over” in New York. Previews start Aug. 4, with an opening set for Sept. 4. (Jeremy Daniel/Lincoln Center Theater via AP)

NEW YORK CITY (NewsNation Now) — The first Broadway play to return since the coronavirus pandemic began reexamines America’s relationship with race after the racial injustice protests of 2020.

“Pass Over” tells the story of two Black men trapped on a street corner and their interactions with passersby, including law enforcement.

Riffing off Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and the Exodus story in the Bible as well as being informed by the death of Trayvon Martin, the play explores structural racism, police brutality and economic determinism. “We ain’t chosen,” Moses tells his friend, heartbreakingly.

The show premieres at the August Wilson Theatre Aug. 4 with previews and will open officially on Sept. 10.

“This play is the right play to reopen Broadway. It will help lead the way in so many ways,”  August Wilson Theatre Director Danya Taymor said. “To consecrate the space after this plague with something as rich and deep and ultimately feeling as ‘Pass Over,’ I could not have dreamed it.”

It was first produced by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2017 and staged at Lincoln Center Theater in 2018. A version went to London in 2020, and Spike Lee filmed the Chicago production for Amazon Prime.

Bruce Springsteen’s show was the first to open on Broadway since the shutdown began, but “Pass Over” is the first play. As with The Boss, it will be an early test of Broadway’s COVID-19 precautions — required vaccines and masks for the audience.

The cast and crew have scrupulously adhered to pandemic requirements. All are regularly tested and masks are necessary while on breaks and in common areas but can be removed while on stage.

Backstage, the customary trays of food and urns of coffee for people to graze on are outlawed. Everyone even has their own pencil cup. But there is something new: a $250 a week wellness stipend.

“Not only are we leading the charge out of the pandemic, showing that we can rehearse safely, we’re all taking our precautions very seriously, making sure that we can be a beacon for people to follow,” said cast member Gabriel Ebert.

Despite the pandemic raging outside and the tough truths on the page, the cast and crew say the mood is light, even playful at rehearsals. They are all hungry to create art again.

The cast taking it to Broadway is the same that starred in the Lincoln Center production: Jon Michael Hill as Moses, Namir Smallwood as Kitch and Ebert as both white characters. All three say the work has deepened in the intervening years, especially since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.

“We know that what we did last time was special, and I think we have a real feeling that we can build and make something even more special,” said Ebert. “We can go to another level with all of our work.”

Theaters artists have been itching to get back to work since New York went on lockdown in March 2020. While other parts of the entertainment world have slowly crept back, commercial live theater is harder because of the physical limitations and economic model.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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