Pass Over: A much-needed story

Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu has created a new and powerful play which merges the brutal realities that many people are living in with the classic play Waiting for Godot by playwright
Samuel Becket

In Pass Over, directed by Omari Newton, two young black men wait for a stranger and experience horrifying violence and other brutal realities on Chicago’s Southside while waiting. During the night, the audience can see the issues of racism, police brutality and street violence. The two men, Moses and Kitch, weave morbid humour with their observations.

Chris Francisque says that Pass Over represents a juxtaposition between the idea of spirituality and reality. | Photo courtesy of Ensemble Theatre Company

Chris Francisque who plays the role of Moses, offers some key insights into the play. Born in Montreal, Quebec, the actor had been told by family members since his childhood that he was fated for the stage. In 2015, after a hiatus, he returned to the stage with the production of Truth and Reconciliation by Surrey Little Theatre. He won two awards for his work in this play and has been in multiple plays since then.

For Francisque, although the play is set in Chicago, the messaging and themes are not confined to Chicago’s Southside.

“[It can happen in] any and every city because anti-Black racism knows no boundaries or borders,” he says.

Francisque reasons that the play represents a juxtaposition between the idea of spirituality and reality. Many people would like to assume that God and hope are not present in such violent and brutal places. They pass over the people living in such communities. Therefore, it resonates with the audience, especially Black folk. Francisque shares that he has experienced racism, and, although he has not personally experienced police brutality, he points to the many examples that are present around the world.

The messaging

Francisque wishes to leave a lasting impression by ensuring his acting resonates with
the audience.

“However, with this piece, the stakes are higher for me,” he says, referring to the many real-world issues that are plaguing society.

In the end, he hopes that people understand that their perception and their narrative of an individual can have brutal consequences for them.

“As an actor, with every play that I do, I hope that I leave a lasting impression with the audience, something that resonates,” says Francisque.

The actor does not feel pressured nor burdened by the Broadway success of the play, however he feels a different type of pressure. He wants to give the character Moses justice as well as both playwrights.

“I have to make sure to hit every note and step so that the audience fully feels what Antoinette Nwandu wrote,”
says Francisque.

He acknowledges that it was important that the director of the play be a Black man.

“The racism we experience as Black men is very specific, and it requires someone who knows what that feels like first hand, to help navigate us through the material. It’s going to be very ugly, very in-your-face, very raw, and as real as we can make it on stage,” says Francisque.

Challenges, highlights

Francisque acknowledges that he was very lucky to work with his friends and an amazing team. He names Newton and Kwasi Thomas (who plays Kitch in the play) as some of those people.

“I consider Omari as a mentor as well, so there’s never any issue or topic I feel I can’t come to him with. I’ve also known and been friends with Kwasi for years. So there’s a familiarity and understanding between all of us that helps us navigate through very heavy material; we all want this piece to resonate with the audience,” he says.

The play, he says, was supposed to be performed in 2020 but had to be postponed due to COVID-19.

“[And since then], the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Donte Wright, to the recent shooting that claimed the lives of ten Black people, have given Pass Over even more pertinence,” Francisque points out. “What’s truly a sad and sobering thought is that pieces like this will always be relevant because anti-Black racism will always be around. That’s just the way it is. But the hope is that this piece can influence the minds of those who are able to make changes in the world, to make it easier for those of us with African ancestry, to be able to exist without being seen as a threat.”

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