Richmond Theater Review: “PASS OVER” By Yes, And Is The Theater We Need Right Now

by | Jun 14, 2024 | DOWNTOWN RVA, PERFORMING ARTS, SOCIAL JUSTICE

One of my favorite feelings when leaving a theater is to be so confused about whether or not I liked the thing or not that I obsess over it for the next two days. Well, that’s me right now. I think I’ve finally processed my thoughts. First, let’s set the scene and tell you what I’m on about. 

The Yes! And Theater Company, with Katrinah Carol Lewis in the Director’s chair, is staging Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s 2017 brilliantly realized PASS OVER in the Theatre Gym space at 114 W Broad St. It is a modern retelling (with significant thematic changes) of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a masterpiece of absurdism. 

PASS OVER has also been filmed for screen by Spike Lee and is currently available streaming. It was one of the many plays to revive Broadway after the COVID epidemic. The author has altered the ending a couple times in the last few years to reflect the monstrosity of George Floyd’s murder and the outpouring of anger during the BLM movement. 

Richmond Theater Review of Pass Over by Yes And Theatre Co by Christian Detres_RVA Magazine 2024
Actors Anthony Cosby Jr and Erich Appleby promotional photos for PASS OVER

The duo of “tramp-like” characters, the Vladimir and Estragon avatars, are two young and destitute men with nothing to do but inhabit space. The aimlessness and grinding boredom of having nowhere to go with no money to spend is portrayed accurately, heartbreakingly so. In Beckett’s original, you are acquainted with a pair of charismatic thinkers stunted by their own inability to act, to move forward in life without the reliance on deliverance. Pass Over presents the boundaries of these boys’ lives as the heel of racism, police brutality, and an American culture that has written them off before they had the time to dream a dream. 

This theme of imprisonment comes up again and again as they recall the friends and family they’ve lost to the savagery of the state and compile lists of all the things their personal paradises contain. These are paradise lands they continually have to convince themselves exist – despite their every sense telling them it is impossible to achieve. Their view to the horizon is always dappled in blue and red flashing lights and punctuated by gunshots. 

They, like Vladimir and Estragon, are visited by enigmatic characters whose motives and philosophies are barely known and not to be trusted. As usual, I don’t want to give away the play, so here are the takeaways I feel comfortable expressing. If these topics are triggering, I get it. Push through with me.

Suffering/Trauma Porn isn’t a new concept but maybe not one you’ve had to consider. If it doesn’t apply to you, then it’s not about you. If it does, this is a great time for some self-reflection. How often do we need to relive our traumas before we start fetishizing them? How long before the archetypes of the beaten are cartoonized into a Punch and Judy show full of uncomfortable laughter and looking away? How long before we have so many depictions of this twisted and evil relationship of power before it too becomes too offensive to look at, or worse, it becomes boring? Not soon. No matter what your feelings on lascivious rubbernecking is, there’s always someone out there that needs to witness our ruin. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to escape having to relive horrors you know far too much about already. 

Some of what is going on in this play is exactly what some people need to see to fully grasp the magnitude of America’s racial biases and the violence that goes into perpetuating them. For a lot of other people, it’s that cut on your lip that seems to never heal because you keep having to move your mouth. The experience you have with this feeling is often augmented by the audience you share the theater with. 

There are two moments in the play that gut-punched me. 

Richmond Theater Review of Pass Over by Yes And Theatre Co by Christian Detres_RVA Magazine 2024
Actors Anthony Cosby Jr and Erich Appleby promotional photos for PASS OVER

The first one is a moment I don’t know that a lot of my fellow theater-goers knew what to do with. Our two heroes Moses and Kitch, played gloriously by Anthony Cosby Jr, a local veteran musical theater actor and Erich Appleby, a relative newcomer with some real promise, flail about the stage wailing “WHY???” “WHY???” “WHYYYYY??!?!” Sure, the action can be construed as comical, but it nearly had me in tears. This. This is the question the black and brown have to ask themselves every damn day. “What did I do to deserve this?” No history lesson, no glorified speech on unity, no advancements in the Civil Rights movement, no march, will ever adequately answer this question. 

There is, like the corner these two characters live on, no fucking escape from it possible. The absolute mind-flaying horror of being tortured by society’s evil can be reduced to that question. It hurt me inside deeply and still does as I type this. So many of my neighbors in that room laughed. “Look at ‘em go!” “Haha, the choreography though…” I felt gutted by the misunderstanding of the moment. To be clear, I don’t hate anyone that didn’t get this point. It just illustrates to me that we still need plays like PASS OVER

Secondly, there’s the beat when we are made to imagine a beautiful woman walking by these two young men. Thankfully, the moment stays uncommented on onstage, but I saw in them (with much credit to their performances) two people that would do anything to be able to take a woman on a date. To go somewhere and be generous. To be a provider. To be a man. ‘Just to be able to approach a beautiful woman with confidence. This broke me inside. A lot of us have been “broke til Friday”, some til the end of the month. Too many people underestimate this scene. Our society tells these men they are worthless. Any advance they could make towards a woman would be met with revulsion, and they are the first to know it. Some lash out, and become “those guys” that you walk to the other sidewalk to avoid. Some just stare too long and wonder “what if”.

In every scene, you see these guys’ worlds get smaller and smaller until calling it a world at all is the apex of absurdity. 

Adam Turck, as the enigmatic antagonist (and the police officer) is almost too good in his role. Every bit of the menace Antoinette Nwandu wrote into these characters wafts like poison off of him. There’s a bit of the snake oil salesman, a predator, the brute with a toddlers’ mind, the pig in a uniform that he channels like he’s NBC. 

All three cast members put a lot of heart into what, on paper, could seem a repetitive script. Anthony Cosby Jr’s Moses has become part of the furniture on his block. His ‘first position’ is one I recognize from deep depression. Just sleep. Sleep the day away. Life can’t hurt you if you don’t pay attention to it. Erich Appleby’s Kitch gave off the vibes of someone too traumatized to think too deeply on what they’re up against. Sure, he understands the problem, but looking at it too long would shatter him. 

I have a lot to say about this play and half of what I wrote here is more of a personal thank you to the cast and crew. Please go see it. This is some strong tea. 

WHERE: Theatre Gym at Virginia Repertory Theatre (114 W. Broad St)
TICKETS: $37 Advanced; link in profile
DISCOUNTS: $20 Rush policy at the door + 3 Pay What You Can opportunities (June 4th, 9th, 11th at the door)

Buy your tickets HERE

Christian Detres

Christian Detres

Christian Detres has spent his career bouncing back and forth between Richmond VA and his hometown Brooklyn, NY. He came up making punk ‘zines in high school and soon parlayed that into writing music reviews for alt weeklies. He moved on to comedic commentary and fast lifestyle pieces for Chew on This and RVA magazines. He hit the gas when becoming VICE magazine’s travel Publisher and kept up his globetrotting at Nowhere magazine, Bushwick Notebook, BUST magazine and Gungho Guides. He’s been published in Teen Vogue, Harpers, and New York magazine to name drop casually - no biggie. He maintains a prime directive of making an audience laugh at high-concept hijinks while pondering our silly existence. He can be reached at christianaarondetres@gmail.com




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