Pass Over uses morbid humour to critique systemic racism

Ensemble Theatre Company leaves us thinking after a whirlwind of emotions

Two young Black men dressed in casual street clothes pose standing with the backs of one shoulder connected, looking at the camera solemnly
Pass Over cleverly critiques police brutality and systemic racism in an emotionally impactful story. Photo Courtesy of Emily Cooper

By: Yasmin Vejs Simsek, Staff Writer

Content warning: mention of racial slur, racism, police brutality.

Pass Over at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island is a political commentary on Black men wanting a better life for themselves. Written by Antoinette Nwandu and directed by Omari Newton, this Broadway play has come to the Vancouver stage to make the audience laugh, cry, and reflect upon the impacts of anti-Black police brutality and systemic racism. 

The long-time issue of police brutality is something that has been denounced by the general public, especially after the murder of George Floyd. Pass Over did not shy away from critiquing this systemic problem and successfully portrayed the fear that Black people must experience daily — particularly in the US. Moses (Chris Francisque) and Kitch (Kwasi Thomas) are the two charming and witty main characters of the play: Black men who are on the streets dreaming of the promised land and taking their fate into their own hands. Pass Over successfully left me on the verge of my seat, wanting to analyze every single aspect of the play. 

The play starts with Moses and Kitch talking shit with an overuse of slang words and being brotherly with each other. Within the first five minutes of the play, they fell to the ground in fear of gunshots from the police and the audience were left feeling horrible for having just laughed at their inside jokes and banter. This form of contrast happened several times during the play and each time we were more and more struck by the reality of fear.

The set was simple, with a street, a lamp, some trash, and tires and crates for seats, and it magnified the characters’ circumstances and their wish for a better life. Moses and Kitch discussed their ten-point list of what their promised land entails, which included ordinary items we take for granted such as clean sheets and socks. Directly following this dialogue, a stranger entered and juxtaposed our two protagonists with his Southern vocabulary, pristine white suit, and food for a whole village. In stark contrast to Moses and Kitch who just shared a pizza crust, he was an alien in their surroundings, a representation of colonialism. Moses and Kitch attempted to talk like the white stranger, in the hopes the police would leave them alone. This was very comical and absolutely tragic all at the same time.

It would be impossible to count how many times the n-word was used in Pass Over. It became exaggerated when paired with the repetitive use of “damn” and “man,” to the point of being overdone. It was also repeatedly said by white characters, which was extremely uncomfortable to hear, but I imagine that was the intention.  

The play takes a metaphorical supernatural turn when Moses gets the powers of the biblical Moses to overcome “the angel of death itself” — the police. This was a clever way of showing that it literally took magic to get out of the unjust circumstances enforced by systemic racism.

Pass Over astonished me. The turn of events threw me back in my seat and I was surprised I didn’t see it coming. The emotional acting and the hardships portrayed had me too engaged to even imagine what could come next. I find it very impressive when a play can make you laugh through a topic that is so traumatizing, and the guilt of laughing is an important emotion needed to reflect upon the realities being critiqued. Although with small theatrical critiques, I was left reflecting on the play and its message for hours afterwards — and isn’t that what theatre is supposed to do?

Pass Over runs at Waterfront Theatre till July 2, 2022. Tickets can be purchased here.