This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

THE POSSIBILITIES / THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE

(photo by Stan Barouh)

Judith (Kathleen Wise) assures a woman (Eliza Renner) that she is fine as a servant (Marianne Tatum) looks on in Howard Barker play (photo by Stan Barouh)

PTP/NYC: Potomac Theatre Project
Atlantic Stage 2
330 West 16th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Through August 5, $22.50-$37.50
ptpnyc.org

The Potomac Theatre Project (PTP) continues its long association with the work of prolific contemporary British playwrights Howard Barker and Caryl Churchill with a fast-paced evening of unique tales continuing at Atlantic Stage 2 through August 5. First up are four parts of Barker’s 1986 decalogue, The Possibilities, prime examples of his self-described “Theatre of Catastrophe.” The quartet, set in different time periods in an almost alternate reality, explores the power and morality of the state and the state’s control of its citizenry. In The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act, a well-dressed woman (Eliza Renner) wants Judith (Kathleen Wise) to return to the city and take a victory lap a year after cutting off the head of Holofernes and several months after giving birth to their child. In Reasons for the Fall of Emperors, Alexander of Russia (Jonathan Tindle) shudders at the cries of his soldiers being tortured and killed outside as he prepares for bed. After dismissing his loyal officer (Adam Milano), he engages in a complex conversation with a wise peasant (Christopher Marshall) who is shining his boots. “Do you not love the Emperor?” Alexander asks. “It is impossible not to love him!” the peasant responds, rather unconvincingly.

(photo by Stan Barouh)

An old lady (Eliza Renner) isn’t sure she wants to sell a book to a man (Adam Milano) in Only Some Can Take the Strain (photo by Stan Barouh)

In Only Some Can Take the Strain, a government functionary (Wise) tells a bedraggled homeless woman (Renner) that she cannot sell books out of a grocery cart; meanwhile a man (Adam Milano) lurks about, desperate to buy an important volume. “Our arteries are clogged with anxiety, our lungs are corroded with fumes,” the lady says. “What a conspiracy and nobody knows but me.” And in She Sees the Argument But, a female official (Wise) attempts to shame a young woman (Madeleine Russell) for wearing high heels and a dress that exposes her ankles. “I don’t ask you to admire my legs,” the confident woman says. “The party executives do that.” PTP co-artistic director Richard Romagnoli adds excerpts from three Barker poems, “Don’t Exaggerate,” “Plevna,” and “Refuse to Dance,” to link the four short plays, which are performed on Hallie Zieselman’s purposely cluttered set, the props for each section waiting in the back to be brought forward when it’s their turn.

(photo by Stan Barouh)

Selby (Tara Giordano) wants to save the world, confusing Mr. Price (Jonathan Tindle) and her direct superior, Dent (Kathleen Wise) (photo by Stan Barouh)

After intermission, the company digs into Churchill’s 1978 television play, The After-Dinner Joke, which consists of sixty-six scenes whirling by in an hour. “I admired two extremes on TV, extreme naturalism and extreme non-naturalism — I went for the second,” Churchill wrote about the piece, and that’s just how PTP co-artistic director Cheryl Faraone lets it unfold on Zieselman’s ever-changing, low-budget set. A large roster of characters take on the politics of charity and the charity of politics, as well as big business and religion, centered by the story of a bright, ambitious woman named Selby (Tara Giordano) who has decided to resign from her job as a personal secretary to a sales manager at a bedding store because she is not helping society. The owner, Mr. Price (Tindle), a tycoon who also has launderettes, Chinese restaurants, and factories, tells Selby, “I give employment. I provide services. I pay taxes. I make profits,” to which Selby replies, “Children are dying, sir.” Price asks, “Are you a Christian?” to which Selby answers, “Not anymore. But I feel just as guilty as if I was. And so should you.” Price opts to keep Selby on as a campaign organizer for his five charities, and off she goes, meeting a wide variety of people as she seeks to rid the world of poverty and starvation.

(photo by Stan Barouh)

Selby (Tara Giordano) can’t believe what she sees in revival of Caryl Churchill play (photo by Stan Barouh)

She encounters a snake-obsessed mayor (Marshall) who tells her, “A charity is by definition nonpolitical. Politics is by definition uncharitable”; a trio of councilors who are getting hit with pies in the face to raise money; a mysterious thief (Christo Grabowski) in black who keeps popping up and stealing things; a rock star (Grabowski) who has found Jesus (and ten-year-olds); a recipe-loving local celebrity (Lucy Van Atta); a snooty country clubber (Milano) who wants to give charity only to himself; an oil sheik who considers buying Marks and Spencer; and a mother (Russell) who is forcing her son to go on a fundraising walk. “If they want to give money, I don’t see why they can’t just give it,” the boy says. “I don’t see why I have to walk round and round the park all afternoon.” Some of the scenes are previously filmed and projected on a screen, which allows quick set changes to be made while channeling a little bit of Monty Pythonesque humor. The play, which is set in the 1970s, takes on added relevance just as the Institute of Economic Affairs in England is being investigated for possible abuse of the necessary separation between charity and politics. “Charity Commission rules state that ‘an organization will not be charitable if its purposes are political.’ How much more political can you get?” George Monbiot writes in the Guardian after exposing several questionable connections. Now in its thirty-second season, PTP, which in 2015 at Atlantic Stage 2 presented Barker’s Scenes from an Execution and Churchill’s Vinegar Tom in repertory, prefers to stage productions of challenging, unconventional, experimental plays, and they have come up with a pair of fine choices yet again.

TEVYE SERVED RAW: GARNISHED WITH JEWS

(photo by Jonathan Smith)

Shane Baker, Allen Lewis Rickman, and Yelena Shmulenson pay homage to Sholem Aleichem in Tevye Served Raw (photo by Jonathan Smith)

The Playroom Theater
151 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Sunday - Tuesday through August 14, $38, 7:00
800-838-3006
www.tevyeservedraw.com
www.theplayroomtheater.com

Tevye Served Raw is a sweet and savory side dish to accompany the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene’s rousing adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Subtitled Garnished with Jews, Tevye Served Raw is adapted and translated by Shane Baker and director Allen Lewis Rickman, who star in the show with Yelena Shmulenson. The evening brings together various writings by Sholem Aleichem, including stories that were not incorporated into Fiddler, and reveal what happened to Tevye and his family outside that narrative; the character was based on a real dairy man, also named Tevye, who Aleichem was friends with in Boyarke in Ukraine. The small, intimate stage at the Playroom Theater is mostly empty except for an occasional chair; the actors change costumes behind curtains on either side. Projections on a rear screen include English subtitles, photographs, and other information. In the opening tale, “What, Me Worthy?,” Tevye (Rickman) says to Sholem (Baker), “Honestly, I don’t know what you find so interesting about a little person like me.” But Tevye is a fascinating man, trying to hold on to tradition as modernity comes to Eastern Europe and anti-Semitism increases. In “Strange Jews on a Train,” a Russian Jew (Shmulenson) and a Galitsyaner (Baker) gossip about the rich Finkelstein family in Kolomey, with Allen standing between them, translating. “Tevye and Khave” and “Father Aleksii,” from Aleichem’s play Tevye the Dairyman, follow the relationship between Tevye and his third daughter, Khave (Shmulenson), after she falls in love with the non-Jewish Khvedke and takes refuge in Father Aleksii’s (Baker) church. “For every single thing you have a Bible verse, or a Medrash, or something!” Khave tells her father. “Do you have one that explains why — since God created such a big and beautiful world — why people can’t just share it?”

(photo by Jonathan Smith)

Tevye (Allen Lewis Rickman) and Khave (Yelena Shmulenson) have differing opinions on love and marriage in Tevye Served Raw (photo by Jonathan Smith)

“The Yiddish Sisyphus” is a scene from Menakehm-Mendl, an epistolary novel by Aleichem in which the title character (Baker) exchanges letters with his wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl (Shmulenson), about his risky monetary ventures, Allen going back and forth as he translates the Yiddish into English. “You have worshipped at every shrine to stupidity,” Sheyne-Sheyndl declares. As an interlude, Shmulenson sings the lovely lullaby “Shlof, Mayn Kind (“Sleep, My Child”). The show concludes with “Get Thee Gone,” in which Tevye, the constable (Baker), a local landowner (Baker), and Tevye’s eldest daughter, Tsaytl (Shmulenson), face the expulsion of the Jews from the shtetl. “Why, God, why do you pick on Tevye? Why not play these games with a Brodsky or a Rothschild?” Tevye asks. But don’t leave yet: There’s a riotously funny encore that celebrates the marvelous insults hurled by Sholem’s stepmother, shouted in Yiddish by Shmulenson and ferociously translated by Allen in a stupendous tour de force. Packed into eighty-five minutes, it’s all a great deal of fun, with the Belarus-born, Ukraine-raised Shmulenson (Orange Is the New Black, The Essence: A Yiddish Theater Dim Sum) — who appeared with Allen as husband and wife in the shtetl scene of the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man — standing out among the three, portraying a wide range of female characters with zest and flair. Baker (Waiting for Godot, God of Vengeance), an Episcopalian well-versed in Yiddish theater, and Rickman (Relatively Speaking, Boardwalk Empire), who in a program note draws parallels between his immigrant father and Tevye, make a fine comic duo with vaudevillian instincts. Tevye Served Raw is a tasty little treat — but watch out for those trayf jokes.

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF IN YIDDISH (FIDLER AFN DAKH)

(photo by Victor  Nechay  /  ProperPix)

Steven Skybell leads a rousing adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof as Tevye (photo by Victor Nechay / ProperPix)

Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Pl.
Wednesday - Sunday through August 26, $70-$121
866-811-4111
nytf.org/fiddler-on-the-roof
mjhnyc.org

I only wish my mother were still alive to see the dazzling US premiere of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish. Shraga Friedman’s adaptation, Fidler Afn Dakh, debuted in Israel in 1965 and has finally made it to New York City, where it is being presented by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through August 26. Directed with verve and style by Tony and Oscar winner Joel Grey, whose father was klezmer star Mickey Katz, the rousing three-hour production features musical staging and choreography by Staś Kmieć, inspired by Jerome Robbins’s original, with musical direction by conductor and NYTF artistic director Zalmen Mlotek. The show is the Fiddler we know and love, the tale of a shtetl on the eve of the 1905 Russian Revolution, complete with stirring nightmare, breathtaking bottle dance, and a sewing machine, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and book by Joseph Stein. But the Yiddish version, with Harnick and Harold Prince serving as consultants, offers neat little twists on the language; Friedman’s translation goes back to Sholem Aleichem’s original Tevye stories and reconfigures numerous lines to match the rhythm and meaning in Yiddish.

Thus, “Tradition” becomes “Traditsye,” “If I Were a Rich Man” turns into “Ven Ikh Bin a Rotshild” (“If I Were a Rothschild”), and “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” is sung as “Shadkhnte, Shadkhnte.” In “Sunrise, Sunset” (“Tog-Ayn, Tog-Oys”), “I don’t remember growing older / When did they?” becomes “Just give a look, how grown up / they’ve become,” while in “Do You Love Me?” (“Libst Mikh, Sertse?), “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes, / cooked your meals, cleaned your house” turns into “For twenty-five years I’ve washed your wash, / I rub and polish pots of brass.” The lyrics are sung in Yiddish, with Russian and English surtitles. Tony winner Beowful Boritt’s spare set is backed with three long, hanging scrolls representing the parchment of the Torah; the word “Torah” is written on the middle section in Hebrew. The twelve-person orchestra plays behind the scrolls, partially visible.

(photo by Victor  Nechay  /  ProperPix)

Tevye and Golde’s five daughters look toward a new future in Fidler Afn Dakh (photo by Victor Nechay / ProperPix)

The utterly superb Steven Skybell, an Obie winner for Antigone in New York, joins a long line of actors portraying Tevye the milkman, from Zero Mostel, Topol, Theodore Bikel, Leonard Nimoy, and Herschel Bernardi to Alfred Molina, Harvey Fierstein, and Danny Burstein, but he’s the first one to do it in Yiddish in America. He shakes his body with vigor, slyly smiles as Tevye looks to G-d for answers, and playfully debates various incidents on one hand and the other. The narrative looks directly at modernity and change from two main perspectives; the personal and the communal. Tevye and his wife, Golde (Jill Abramovitz), are raising five daughters, Tsaytl (Rachel Zatcoff), Hodl (Stephanie Lynne Mason), Khave (Rosie Jo Neddy), Shprintze (Raquel Nobile), and Beylke (Samantha Hahn). Town gossip and matchmaker Yente (Jackie Hoffman) arrives one day to tell Golde that the wealthy, much older butcher, Leyzer-Volf (Bruce Sabath), wants to marry Tsaytl, but unbeknownst to either of them, Tsaytl is in love with the poor tailor, Motl Kamzoyl (Ben Liebert). Tsaytl and Motl’s determination to make their own match goes against tradition and the father’s power — and also leads to Hodl wanting to be with progressive teacher and political radical Pertshik (Daniel Kahn) and Khave falling for non-Jew Fyedka (Cameron Johnson), as women start making decisions for themselves. The excellent cast also includes Lauren Jeanne Thomas as Der Fiddler, Kirk Geritano as Avrom the bookseller, Jodi Snyder as Frume-Sore, Michael Yashinsky as Mordkhe the innkeeper, Der Rov as the rabbi, Jennifer Babiak as Grandma Tsaytl, and Evan Mayer and Nick Raynor as Fyedka’s friends, Sasha and Yussel.

(photo by Victor  Nechay  /  ProperPix)

Joel Grey directs Yiddish version of Fiddler with verve and panache (photo by Victor Nechay / ProperPix)

The other key plot point centers around anti-Semitism and the future of the shtetl. Der Gradavoy (the constable, played by Bobby Underwood) warns Tevye, whom he claims to like and respect, that there is going to be an unofficial demonstration by the police to rattle the village in order to assert their control. “Thank you, your excellency,” Tevye says. “You are a good person. It’s a shame you aren’t a Jew.” Anatevke is in danger, but the residents don’t want to leave the only home most of them have ever known. I’ve seen numerous Fiddlers over the years, but this Yiddish version, which could have felt dated and old-fashioned, instead is very much of the moment in the wake of the immigrant and refugee crisis currently going on in America and around the world. It’s chilling watching the final scenes in light of what is shown on the news night after night. The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene has been on quite a roll since celebrating its centennial in 2015, with a wonderful adaptation of The Golden Bride, the Drama Desk-nominated Amerike — the Golden Land, and a sensational work-in-progress preview of The Sorceress. This Yiddish version of Fiddler on the Roof should be another big hit for the talented troupe. And my mother would have loved it.

Note: There will be a series of preshow discussions ($5, 6:30) called “Fiddler Talks: From Anatevka to Broadway and Back Again,” consisting of “The Making of Fiddler on the Roof” on July 18, “Transforming Fiddler on the Roof into Fidler Afn Dakh” on July 25, “Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye and Fiddler’s, or ‘Was Tevye a Traditional Jew?’” on August 8, and “Shalom / Sholom the Yiddish Mark Twain” on August 22. In addition, Tevye Served Raw, which includes two Tevye tales not in Fiddler on the Roof as well as other Aleichem works, opens July 17 at the Playroom Theatre.

THE DAMNED

Ivo van Hove’s The Damned runs at the Park Avenue Armory July 17-28 (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

Ivo van Hove’s The Damned runs at the Park Avenue Armory July 17-28 (photo by Jan Versweyveld)

Park Avenue Armory, Wade Thompson Drill Hall
643 Park Ave. at 67th St.
July 17-28, $35-$175, 7:30/8:00
212-933-5812
armoryonpark.org

Ivo van Hove has dazzled audiences with unique theatrical interpretations of such complex films as Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, Persona, and Scenes from a Marriage, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, and John Cassavetes’s Opening Night and Faces. The Belgian director continues his affection for difficult cinema with his adaptation of Luchino Visconti’s 1969 The Damned, an exploration of power and decadence in 1930s Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, and Enrico Medioli were nominated for an Oscar for their screenplay for the film, which stars Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Griem, Helmut Berger, Umberto Orsini, and Charlotte Rampling. Van Hove is directing the work not for his home company, Toneelgroep in Amsterdam, but for France’s legendary Comédie-Française, which was founded in 1680. “In my view, it is the celebration of evil,” van Hove, who has also directed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and A View from the Bridge on Broadway and is reviving West Side Story, says about the dark tale. The work features set and lighting design by van Hove’s longtime collaborator and partner, Jan Versweyveld, costumes by An D’Huys, video by Tal Yarden, and sound by Eric Sleichim. The North American premiere takes place at the Park Avenue Armory July 17-28; van Hove will be participating in an artist talk with Laurie Anderson on July 19 at 6:00. In addition, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is hosting “Visconti: A Retrospective,” consisting of more than a dozen films by the Italian director, continuing through July 19 with such gems as Rocco and His Brothers, The Leopard, The Innocent, and, on closing night, The Damned.

FREE SUMMER EVENTS JULY 15-22

come out and play

The free summer arts & culture season is under way, with dance, theater, music, art, film, and other special outdoor programs all across the city. Every week we will be recommending a handful of events. Keep watching twi-ny for more detailed highlights as well.

Sunday, July 15
Harlem Meer Performance Festival: Keith “the Captain” Gamble and the NU Gypsies, Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, Central Park, 2:00

Monday, July 16
Piano in Bryant Park: Daryl Sherman, July 16-20, Bryant Park, 12:30

Tuesday, July 17
High Line Art: Kerry Tribe Artist Talk, panel discussion with Kerry Tribe, moderated by Melanie Kress and Ana Traverso-Krejcarek, about Tribe’s Exquisite Corpse film, the High Line at Fourteenth St., 7:00

Black Mother will be shown in Socrates Sculpture Park on July 19

Black Mother will be shown in Socrates Sculpture Park on July 19

Wednesday, July 18
Outdoor Cinema: Black Mother (Khalik Allah, 2018) and Symphony of a Sad Sea (Carlos Morales Mancilla, 2018), Socrates Sculpture Park, with live performance at 7:00, film at sunset

Thursday, July 19
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot: Hamlet, starring Jane Bradley and directed by Karla Hendrick, Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk St., July 19-21 & 26-28, 6:30

Piano in Bryant Park continues weekdays at 12:30

Piano in Bryant Park continues weekdays at 12:30

Friday, July 20
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival: Anoushka Shankar, Land of Gold, My Brightest Diamond, Prospect Park Bandshell, 7:30

Saturday, July 21
Come Out & Play, Manhattan Bridge Archway Plaza, DUMBO, family-friendly activities 1:00 - 5:00, adult games 7:00 - 10:00

Sunday, July 22
SummerStage: Ginuwine, the Ladies of Pink Diamonds, and DJ Stacks, Corporal Thompson Park, Staten Island, 5:00

MARY PAGE MARLOWE

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Twelve-year-old Mary Page (Mia Sinclair Jenness) looks up to her mother (Grace Gummer) in extraordinary Tracy Letts play (photo by Joan Marcus)

2econd Stage Theater
Tony Kiser Theater
305 West 43rd St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through August 12, $30-$89
2st.com/shows

“I am unexceptional,” the title character tells her shrink in Mary Page Marlowe, Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts’s exceptional play, which opened tonight at 2econd Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater. The best play I’ve ever seen about the life and times of a woman written by a man, Mary Page Marlowe follows the protagonist, born in 1946, through eleven nonchronological stages of her rather ordinary existence, portrayed by six terrifically talented actresses and one doll (as the infant). Each scene reveals small but significant details about the character as she goes about her days as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a patient, an employee, and a retiree, trying to find her identity as her relationships — and her name — change. Whether she ever finds her true self — if there even is such a thing — is the question of the play. Mary Page is wonderfully performed by Mia Sinclair Jenness at twelve, Emma Geer at nineteen, Tatiana Maslany (in her New York stage debut) at twenty-seven and thirty-six, Susan Pourfar at forty and forty-four, Kellie Overbey at fifty, and Blair Brown at fifty-nine, sixty-three, and sixty-nine. The nonlinear time shifts are indicated primarily by the character’s clothing (the simple but effective costumes are by Kaye Voyce) and hairstyle as such basic props as beds, tables, couches, and chairs slide on and off Laura Jellinek’s intimate two-level set, making it clear this is about one woman’s interior and exterior changes, not about a changing America.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Fifty-nine-year-old Mary Page (Blair Brown) gets some bad news as Ray (Brian Kerwin) looks on in masterful production at 2econd Stage (photo by Joan Marcus)

From childhood to senior citizenship, Mary Page faces illness, divorce, alcoholism, infidelity, displacement, and more, all with the same attitude, as if various key moments in her life are no different from the rest of her days; sometimes the choices aren’t hers, but even when they are, she is often a spectator, much like the audience. “What do you want?” her teenage daughter, Wendy (Kayli Carter), asks at a Denny’s as her younger brother, Louis (Ryan Foust), plays with a map. “Why can’t you just say what you want?” Wendy repeats when her mother avoids the question. Throughout the ninety-minute intermissionless play, Mary Page says “I don’t know” two dozen times, although she also does provide some answers. When her shrink (Marcia DeBonis) asks her why she hasn’t brought up what she believes to be a certain important issue previously, Mary Page says, “Because it’s not relevant, that’s what I’m telling you, it feels like a different person who was going through that,” eliciting a laugh from the audience since each Mary Page is played by a different actress. She then adds, “I still live life even when you’re not watching me,” as if reminding the audience that there is even more to Mary Page than what is revealed onstage, just as there is more to any woman we see in real life. But even when she does — or doesn’t — take action for her own benefit, she shows a resilience to persist, a well-earned survival instinct that keeps her going despite what are sometimes formidable odds.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Thirty-six-year-old Mary Page (Tatiana Maslany) faces off against her shrink (Marcia DeBonis) in dazzling New York premiere (photo by Joan Marcus)

Letts (August: Osage County, Superior Donuts) and director Lila Neugebauer, who has excelled helming such ensemble pieces as The Antipodes, Everybody, The Wolves, and The Wayside Motor Inn, do a beautiful job moving from scene to scene; even though events happen out of order, Mary Page is in a constant state of progression. We might not ever see them together (at least not until the curtain call), but the six amazing women who play Mary Page flow into one another seamlessly, helping make her one person with many distinct aspects. The large cast also includes Grace Gummer as Mary Page’s mother and Nick Dillenburg as her father; Audrey Corsa and Tess Frazer as her high school friends, Connie and Lorna; David Aaron Baker and Brian Kerwin as significant others Ray and Andy; Maria Elena Ramirez as her nurse; Gary Wilmes as one of her lovers; and Elliot Villar as her dry cleaner, who wraps everything up as they talk about fixing a quilt in which “different women would sew the different panels and then stitch them all together,” just as Letts, Neugebauer, and the cast have so remarkably done in this extraordinary work.

PASS OVER

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Kitch (Namir Smallwood) and Mister (Gabriel Ebert) wonder what’s next in Antoinette Nwandu’s Pass Over (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Claire Tow Theater
LCT3/Lincoln Center Theater
150 West 65th St.
Through July 22, $30
www.lct.org

Antoinette Nwandu takes a hard look at who we are as a nation through the eyes of a pair of young, disenfranchised black men in the searing Pass Over, continuing at Lincoln Center’s Claire Tow Theater through July 22. As you enter the small, intimate venue, the main characters are already onstage, one sleeping under a lamp post, the other walking back and forth across a long, angled street curb, occasionally stopping and staring out suspiciously, as if expecting trouble, from racial profiling to blatant discrimination and bigotry. The former is Moses (Jon Michael Hill), a stern, angry man with “plans to rise up to my full potential,” while the latter is Kitch (Namir Smallwood), a naive, less ambitious guy. They call each other by the n-word so often that it is meant to make the mostly white audience feel uncomfortable; in fact, to further that feeling, one reason the two-act, eighty-five-minute show has no intermission is that “if Moses and Kitch cannot leave, neither can you,” Nwandu writes in the script. The two men often talk of getting out, their conversations punctuated by abrupt lighting shifts as they raise their hands in the air, as if suddenly facing the police, or the “po-pos.”

Their space is soon invaded by Mister (Gabriel Ebert), a privileged version of Little Red Riding Hood; Mister is a tall Caucasian man dressed in an all-white suit, with white shoes and a white hat and carrying a picnic basket. He says he got lost on the way to his mother’s house and offers to share his food with them in exchange for their allowing him to sit down and rest his “weak arches.” While Kitch is aching to dig in to the grub, Moses wants no part of Mister, suspicious of his motives and why he’s there. Although they speak a very different language — Mister talks formally and says things like “gosh golly gee” and “salutations,” in blunt contrast to the street poetry of Kitch and Moses — they quickly begin discussing police treatment of blacks, hunger, and the n-word. “Gosh / you really like that word. . . . I mean / every sentence / my n-word this / my n-word that,” Mister says. “Maaaaaan / quit actin’ like / yo ass ain’t sed dat shit,” Kitch argues, but Mister insists he has never used the term. “If they don’t / bess believe / dey want to,” Moses says about white men who claim they don’t say it. A few minutes later, Mister departs, and a uniformed white cop, Ossifer (Ebert), shows up, immediately threatening Moses and Kitch. “Talk shit / like they got power / ain’t got no power / cept dat gun / dat fuckin badge,” Moses says after the policeman has left. They then go to sleep, hoping that the next day will be better. It’s not.

(photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Trouble awaits Kitch (Namir Smallwood) and Moses (Jon Michael Hill) in Pass Over (photo by Jeremy Daniel)

Waiting for Godot meets the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt in Pass Over, a dark, twenty-first-century fable of the state of race relations in America today — and how much things haven’t changed since before the Civil War. In the script, Nwandu refers to Moses as a slave driver and God’s chosen leader, Kitch as a slave and one of God’s chosen, Mister as a plantation owner and pharaoh’s son, and Ossifer as a patroller and a solder in pharaoh’s army; she also notes that the play takes place in the present as well as 1855 and the thirteenth century BCE, on a ghetto street, on a plantation, and in Egypt, expanding the timelessness of the central narrative. However, the characters, Wilson Chin’s set, and Sarafina Bush’s costumes never switch eras, equating the perpetual nature of racism and slavery through the ages. Tony nominee Hill (Superior Donuts, The Unmentionables) and Smallwood (Pipeline, Buzzer) sizzle as updated versions of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, waiting and hoping for a promised land that appears to be far beyond their reach, while Tony and Obie winner Ebert (Matilda the Musical, 4000 Miles) attacks his two roles with relish. The play, which premiered last year at Steppenwolf and was filmed by Spike Lee, is boldly honest, both funny and frightening. When Mister tells Moses and Kitch, “If i were in your shoes / gosh / i’d be terrified,” he’s speaking for everyone in the audience. Taymor (Esai’s Table, Nwandu’s Flat Sam), whose aunt is Emmy and two-time Tony winner Julie Taymor, directs with a sure hand, letting the subject matter take shape before it all shatters. Pass Over ushers in a fresh, vibrant voice in Nwandu, who includes a shock ending to make sure we get her devastating message.