“Pass Over,” playing through May 13 at the Left Edge Theatre in Santa Rosa, offers one breathtaking layer atop another atop another.
It zeroes in on two Black men on an inner city streetcorner brandishing their fears while playing verbal games and fantasizing the time away. All the while, they hope for a miracle to take them to a promised land filled with creature comforts and safety.
The 90-minute comic drama suggests pieces of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” played against a backdrop of police brutality. It also mashes up with spiritual reflections of the Bible’s Book of Exodus and enslavement.
To complicate matters more, it’s peppered with a slew of lines that dare an audience not to laugh.
The ultimate question playwright Antoinette Nwandu’s creation raises: Is there anything that can stop the cycle of violence against Blacks?
“Another Black fellow was killed today,” one character says flatly at one point, and then asks the crucial question: “Why?”
When the show’s over, some theatergoers could decide to see it again to check out what was missed or misunderstood during the avalanche of trash talk and verbal sparring. Others, however, might determine never to think about it again.
Some difficulty could stem from semantic difficulties as a white audience listens to two “brothers” speed-spouting Ebonics. When Moses (Sam Ademola), who wears his pain on his arm, declares he intends to “git my ass up off dis block,” that’s clear enough. But when he and his buddy, Kitch (Mark Anthony), who’s a little more carefree (and naïve), rapidly meander all over a cerebral landscape between torrents of the N- and F-words (literally hundreds), it’s sometimes tough to hear some of the nuances.
Their hope to “pass over” is also somewhat fuzzy. It changes, shifts and alters — from simply getting off their corner and into a real bed to escaping from slavery and/or being put upon while crossing verbal swords with a white Mister (Skylar Evans) and a sadistic cop named Ossifer (Mike Pavone).
Scenes switch without warning between ghetto life to plantation attitudes or to plagues and an Egypt of thousands of years ago.
Parallels to “Godot” include a suicide pact so Moses and Kitch can pass over the “streets of anger, streets of violence” into paradise, which ostensibly would end their anxiety and suffering. Beckett’s tramps, of course, mull hanging themselves.
Another similarity is the sparse set and few props: In “Pass Over,” there’s simply a chunk of sidewalk, a solitary light pole, a deflated basketball, two crates and an old tire.
Considering that this play can be labeled surreal, both Ademola and Anthony are believable (except perhaps during the penultimate scene that ventures into a metaphysical arena).
Verbal comedy is sprinkled throughout, but the shocking melodramatic moments are what linger long in the mind after a theatergoer drives home: like when the two protagonists dive to the ground and hide from cop-car sirens, or when they’re forced to hold their hands above their head and kowtow to the baton-wielder. Or when Mister, sporting a straw hat, sports jacket and bowtie, arrives with bounteous food in a wicker picnic basket and awkwardly offers it to the mega-hungry duo. And like when Moses and Kitch discuss “ownership” of the N-word.
There also are many oft-repeated moments that defy one-word descriptions. Such as the frequent plea to “kill me now” along with its inevitable “bang, bang” response. Or the frequent unrealistic conjuring up of top 10 items the duo hope will greet them in the promised land (including a Ferrari and “six bitches”).
“Pass Over,” superbly directed here by Serena Elize Flores, was among the first shows to open on Broadway after the pandemic shutdown of 17 months. Its history is longer than that, however: Nwandu wrote it, obviously with passion, after Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012.
Left Edge Theatre’s “Pass Over” continues through May 13 at The California, 528 Seventh St., Santa Rosa. Tickets are $22-$36. Call 707-536-1620 or visit leftedgetheatre.com.