“Pass Over”, performed live in Hawthorne Park, is a must-see before it heads to Broadway

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Paola Nogueras

Just off Broad Street and not far from Philadelphia’s larger theatres, you’ll find Hawthorne Park. The outdoor space seems to be in a pretty quiet, residential area. It’s also steps away from the spot where the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed Hawthorne residents and neighbors during the 1965 Freedom Rally.

Because of the pandemic, theatres have been forced to think outside of their stage and reinvent the way people can experience the arts in a safe way. Hawthorne Park provides a very fitting atmosphere for Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over which is co-produced by Theatre Exile and Theatre in the X, and directed by Ozzie Jones. In the park, a perfect platform exists for the 70-minute, non stop play featuring three very dedicated actors who tell a story that needs to be heard over and over again.

You’ll hear it very clearly, actually, as you will be provided with headphones to block out the daily life around you. Instead, you’ll be focused on just Moses (played by Jared Chichester) and Kitch (Davon Johnson), speaking right in your ears.

They are two young Black men looking for freedom. Looking to get out of their neighborhood, their block, the life they are living. But they know what happens to people like them. They list all of the friends and family they lost to police violence. Gun violence. Prison for crimes that shouldn’t require more than a fine. They know that no matter what they do, they’ll end up on that list too. So why bother? Still, Moses and Kitch talk about everything they’ll do and have when they pass over to the promise land, whatever that may be. The people they love will be with them, they’ll have their own families, delicious food, new shoes, even world peace. They just need to figure how how to make that dream a reality for both of them.

A third actor, David Pica, shows up as two separate characters. One is a white man who seemingly is lost and just needs to find his way home. Another is their enemy, a police officer who threatens to shoot Moses and Kitch who have done nothing. Nothing. Pica’s roles change the dynamic of Moses and Kitch- how they see what’s in front of them and they think about themselves.

This dialog between Moses and Kitch is intense, but still funny at times. Chichester and Johnson are incredible performers and they make you forget where you are while watching Pass Over. It’s theatre, but you’re not in a theatre. You’re out in the real world. In someone’s neighborhood. In a city park. You’re watching incredibly believable actors because what’s not to believe? The story they are telling is real. It was someone’s story. It’s going to be someone’s story again. And we need to listen.

Pass Over has been performed on many stages through the US. Theatre Exile knew the show was big in content and impression, and needed to be seen by their audiences. They enlisted the help of Theatre in the X who have been producing daring work for years in their West Philly neighborhood, bringing content to life that is created by and for their African American community. Saying this has been a trying year both mentally and politically is quite an understatement. Go see a real, live show again and start talking to your peers in-person about what’s going on in our world. Purchase tickets in advance here. Final performance is Sunday June 27th.

Pass Over heads to Broadway this August for a limited nine-week run.

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