Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu (309000)
Credit: Beowulf Sheehan photo

If you haven’t seen “Pass Over” on Broadway you must make plans to go. This stirringly moving play tells of story of Black men and their immobilizing fear of being murdered by the police. A fear which for many people unfortunately has been a reality. Moses and Kitch live on a ghetto street corner and won’t move for fear a racist White cop will kill them. Their existence is minimal, but they manage to love and support each other. They manage to give each other that sense of worth that society does not bestow upon them. I recently had the pleasure to interview “Pass Over” playwright, Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu, who is making her Broadway debut with the stunning production.

Reflecting on what she is saying to Black men by writing this play, she said, “we’ve told ourselves the story of Black man’s death too many times, we’ve seen it, so I want to tell the story of the Black man reborn.” Her main characters Moses and Kitch live on a ghetto street corner, afraid to move, their everyday existence consists of tedium and redundancy with hopelessness on the side. It makes one wonder what is their ownness to survive. Nwandu shared, “I think a lot of times it’s love, if a person feels loved they know their life is worth tending.”

It’s interesting to watch these two characters as they engage in conversation and suddenly stop and looked terrified because they think the police are coming. When asked what she wants the audience to experience at those moments, Nwanda responded, “I want us to experience in our bodies exactly what they are experiencing. Something as simple as a joyful moment can turn into terror very quickly.”

There is a White character that enters their domain, commenting on what he represents, the playwright said, “He represents the two sides of supremacy—in order for supremacy to exist it needs muscle, which is Ossifer, but it also needs agency, ability, the person that gives the green light, that allows it.” It is amazing how Nwandu can break everything down so beautifully. “I feel like that’s part of my purpose. The problems that I think about are complex, but it’s my purpose to tell them very simply,” she said.

Throughout the play, Nwandu has the “N” word flying between the two Black men, explaining why she did this, she said, “I was just being faithful to the way my students spoke. I taught public speaking and it was the way my students spoke. I liked their voices and they stuck with me. Their language is very musical.”

Nwandu was inspired to write this piece after so many murders of Black men by police. Explaining why Black Lives don’t seem to matter to racist cops, Nwandu remarked, “Cops are just the modern day equivalent of slave catchers. The reason for cops is to protect and serve property. The property was slaves. Past it down, past it down. We haven’t fixed the problem of slavery in America, so the problem won’t be fixed.”

The character Moses dies, but it is not a reason for sadness, according to Nwandu, it’s more important that the audience focuses on what happens afterwards. “What I want people to see is not that Moses is down, but that Moses gets back up. Whether you think it’s actual resurrection–he gets back up. The death is something he asks for and what his friend gives him. He wanted an end to his reality and Kitch gave that to him and he was able to come back from that.”

Regarding a play like “Pass Over” making it to Broadway at this time, Nwandu said, “I think that the meaning will be made in time, I think now is a little too soon to understand everything that it means. I know that as a Black woman I think that Black women specifically hold a lot of the morality and a sort of moral power. Even in the election when you break it down by race and gender–who’s voting to save this country. Black women are always on the front lines of every sort of healing, reckoning or change to make this country more of what it’s supposed to be.”

With regards to making her Broadway debut, Nwandu humbly shared, “It’s a heavy responsibility. But I feel so proud to have been chosen for this moment.” Nwandu was a fascinating young woman to interview, listening to her respond to questions it was obvious that she has a very deep thought process and a great love for her people. Not to mention she is a very well-educated and brilliant, down-to-earth person. This young lady has quite an impressive background. She is a MacDowell Fellow; an Ars Nova Play Group alum, a Dramatists Guild Fellow and a Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference Literary Fellow. She is winner of a Lilly Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Whiting Award, Samuel French Next Step Award, Paula Vogel Playwrighting Award, Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award and Negro Ensemble Company’s Douglas Turner Ward Prize. Her work has been supported by Sundance Theater Lab, Space on Ryder Farm, Ignition Fest, Cherry Lance Mentor Project, Fire This Time, and The Movement Theater Company. This accomplished woman has a AB in English from Harvard, MSc from The University of Edinburgh and MFA from NYU Tisch. And, she is also one of the Producers of “Pass Over.” To up and coming Black writers, Nwandu gives this advice, “Tell the Truth.” “Pass Over” will only play at the August Wilson Theatre through October 10, 2021.