by Lynn on October 29, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Antoinette Nwandu

Directed by Philip Akin

Set by Julia Kim

Costumes by Vanessa Fischer

Lighting by Chris Malkowski

Sound by Miquelon Rodriguez

Cast: Kaleb Alexander

Mazin Elsadig

Alex McCooeye



The Story. Moses and Kitch are two black men waiting for something better than being on that street in that block. They want to ‘pass over’ to a better street, a better life. Their idea of “pass over” is to move up and on. They pass the time bantering, imagining ten things they want in their new life. They encounter people as they wait. How these people treat Moses and Kitch and how they react to that treatment is their life.

The Production. Julia Kim’s set is of a curved sidewalk with a high curb, a lamppost, a fire hydrant and a large, empty spool for thick wire. The height of the curb reinforces the difficulty of getting off that street.  Moses (Kaleb Alexander) sleeps at the base of the lamppost. Kitch (Mazin Elsadig) was asleep where the sidewalk goes off. He gets up and walks around the sidewalk looking at Moses but not disturbing him. He ambles up and down the sidewalk. Killing time. Vanessa Fischer has designed clothes that are workman like but not dirty or badly frayed. Perhaps the clothes should have been ‘broken’ down more if Moses and Kitch had been sleeping ‘rough.’ Just a thought. Chris Malkowski’s lighting is bright but not warm. This adds another touch to a life that can’t hide in shadows.

Moses and Kitch banter and riff in their own particular way of speaking to each other. They are close friends. They trust each other. They are comfortable with each other. When they play the game of imagining ten things they want in their new life they start with flashy things: Air Jordan’s, a car, a house, but then segue into things more meaningful: sharing it with a loving woman, a favourite meal of collard greens and pinto beans.

But then they hear a startling noise and bright lights are flashed on them. One of the men drops to his knees with his hands up in the air, while the other puts his hands high in the air and stands stiffly. Both looked terrified. Then the lights on them go off and both men slowly lower their arms and resume their banter, a bit more tentatively.  The noise is the warning blast of a cop car as it has both men in its headlights. This is not just the life of a black man in America. There are resonances in Canada too.

Soon after this both men are startled by the arrival of a white man, well dressed in a three piece suit, carrying a picnic basket. His language is formal and courtly. He is lost. He’s on his way to his mother’s house with that basket of food. He apologizes for startling them. He offers them the food in the hamper which they gratefully accept and begin to eat. The man (Alex McCooeye) is listed as “Mister” in the program but Alex McCooeye pronounces it as “Master” which makes both men choke on their food.

Later both men are startled again when an imposing cop (Alex McCooeye) in uniform and sunglasses arrives. He is brutish, nasty and violent to Kitch and Moses. He has only contempt for them and they have to take it in order to be left alone. Interestingly neither Kitch nor Moses lists revenge or violence to those who have mistreated them in their top ten picks of things they want in their new life when they pass over to it.

Playwright, Antoinette Nwandu has written Pass Over as an echo to Samuel Beckett’s classic Waiting for Godot, in which two tramps wait on a road for a person named “Godot” who never comes. Usually the two tramps are played by white actors. By writing Pass Over for two black characters wanting a better life Nwandu challenges us to perceive these men in the same way we would if they were white. She’s impish in some of her touches that reflect on Waiting for Godot.  In Waiting for Godot one of the men offers the other man a carrot to eat. In Pass Over one of the men takes a small crust of pizza out of his pocket and offers it to his friend.

Philip Akin has directed a beautiful, sensitive production that also has subtle references to Waiting for Godot.  As we watch Hitch walk up and down the sidewalk he sits by the curb, takes off his boot and feels inside for something that is annoying him—perhaps a stone. The same action happens with more attention to that boot in Waiting for Godot. It’s a small moment in Pass Over but I love Akin’s slight tip of the hat to the original. Akin’s direction realizes the camaraderie of these two men who have so much in common, especially protecting themselves from the brutal treatment of those who see only their skin colour and hold them in contempt. Kaleb Alexander has a graceful style and easy humour as Moses. Mazin Elsadig as Kitch is more wiry, keeps on the move but not in an erratic way. Moving is a way of passing the time and the time goes slowly. Kitch is a bit more serious than his friend, but both have an easy camaraderie that is seamless.

Alex McCooeye plays “Mister” as a courtly, formal man, self-deprecating the first time we see him with his food hamper. He is fastidious when unpacking everything to share with Kitch and Moses. He also plays a bullying cop named in the program as “Ossifer. McCooeye’s height and proximity to Moses and Kitch make him dangerous. Philip Akin’s stagings of these scenes in particular make one suck air slowly. This is life for a black man not just in America and it’s presented without ranting, raging or much noise. But the result grips you.

Comment. I love this play. I love how it throws up my assumptions in my face; how it startles me with my blinkered thinking; how it upsets and unsettles me for all the right reasons. I love how Antoinette Nwandu weaves this shattering story of these two close friends, creating such a vivid language for them full of humour, anger, hope, fear and a need to pass over to a better life. I love Nwandu’s artistry in taking a classic like Waiting for Godot and re-imagining it for two black men, infusing it with such heightened emotion and consequence it just grips you. Moses and Kitch’s desire to pass over to another place for a better life is heart-squeezing considering the difficulties they live with every day. This wonderful production makes you feel every high and low emotion they feel. After this moving performance I did what I did after the performance I saw last year in New York, I wept all the way to the subway.

Obsidian Theatre presents:

Opened: Oct. 25, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 10, 2019.

Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission.

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