Danya Taymor was jazzy. It was late July and the theater manager had just opened the August Wilson Theater on Broadway after months of stillness and silence.
She absorbed it all, checking the scene and tweaking her plans. Taymor is tasked with directing the first play to open on Broadway since the pandemic closed – “Pass Over”.
“This play is the right play to reopen Broadway. It will help show the way in many ways, ”she said. “To consecrate the space after this plague with something as rich and deep and ultimately as ‘Pass Over’, I couldn’t have dreamed of it.
As the play makes the transition to its premiere on Wednesday, the cast and crew offered their take on the historic moment, from the first meeting to the first costume fittings and the first rehearsal.
“I think, collectively, everyone thrives fully after a year of transformation and enters this show. This energy is definitely palpable, ”said director Cody Renard Richard.
The play by playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu tells the story of two black friends, Moses and Kitch, stuck on the corner of an urban street and between childhood and manhood. They dream of leaving the corner – by the way – to paradise, a world they imagine full of caviar, clean socks and new Air Jordans.
Days turn into days and they are visited by two white characters – a man of obscure motives who got lost and a brutal cop who demands that they put their hands behind their back: “Come on, boy, you know exercise, ”he tells them.
Drawing inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and the story of the Exodus in the Bible, while being informed by the death of Trayvon Martin, the play explores structural racism, police brutality and economic determinism. . “We are not chosen,” Moses said to his friend, heartbreaking.
The Bruce Springsteen show was the first to open on Broadway since the closing began, but “Pass Over” is the first play. As with The Boss, this will be a first test of Broadway’s COVID-19 precautions – vaccines and masks required for the public.
The cast that takes him to Broadway is the same one that played in a Lincoln Center production a few years ago: Jon Michael Hill as Moses, Namir Smallwood as Kitch and Gabriel Ebert as both. white characters. All three say the work deepened in the years that followed, especially since the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman.
“We know what we did last time around was special, and I think we really feel like we can build and do something even more special,” said Ebert. “We can take all of our work to another level. “
The world has changed since the last performance of the play – and so has the play. Nwandu plans revisions throughout, especially with the end. In previous productions, the cop kills Moses. In the Broadway version, he won’t.
“The text adjusts and changes and deepens and refines to respond to this moment,” said Taymor, who has directed three of the play’s five iterations and is making his Broadway debut this time around.
If previous versions have served as alarm bells for Americans to see a system of injustice and brutality, Broadway’s “Pass Over” acknowledges that Floyd’s death did the same. Today, the playwright looks to the future.
“She envisions something that doesn’t exist but could exist,” Taymor said. “She’s considering a way forward, which I think is really what we need right now.”
The first pandemic cast and crew reunion took place outside – to be socially distanced – on July 7 at Bella Abzug Park on the West Side of Manhattan. The first rehearsal took place the next day in a studio at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Participants described it as the first day of school or the bike.
“I think everyone had come back to the play in hopes of keeping their eyes open for new things,” Hill said after leaving that first rehearsal. “It was electric.”
Even the costumes have been redesigned. Designer Sarafina Bush, who dressed the characters off Broadway, created new costumes and colors for Moses and Kitch, getting brighter for the characters she wants audiences to see as men, not thugs.
“We wanted the costumes to exude their inner joy. So in terms of tones and color palette, it’s very different from what everyone has seen before, ”she said.
The cast and crew have scrupulously respected the demands of the pandemic. All are regularly tested and masks are required during breaks and in common areas but can be removed on stage.
“Not only are we leading the charge out of the pandemic, showing that we can repeat it safely, but we are all taking our precautions very seriously, making sure we can be a beacon to follow,” Ebert said.
It has not escaped anyone’s notice that “Pass Over” goes to the August Wilson Theater, named after the esteemed columnist of the black experience on stage. Now a black playwright is doing the same in 2021.
“There is a reverence for the ghosts that are in the theater with us and for the legacy that the theater holds. We are delighted to step into this space and dance with these spirits,” Ebert said.