Another World Premiere in Chicago! Wow! It appears that the world has recognized that Chicago is in fact THE “Theater City” and our audiences are as “pleased as punch” to beat out those “Big Apple” people.”Head of Passes”, now onstage at Steppenwolf Theatre was written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and is inspired by the “Biblical Book of Job”. The story is about a small marshland area near the mouth of the great Mississippi River, known as Head of Passes.When we enter the downstairs theater at Steppenwolf, we are greeted by an almost real single family home, two story , sided, with an open patio room. There is a man on the stage, who we witness, but only one of the characters does. That character is Shelah ( an incredible performance by Cheryl Lynn Bruce, a Chicago favorite in a role that only she could make work). It is her home ( designed by David Gallo). It is a rainy day, the eve of Shelah’s birthday and her son Aubrey ( deftly handled by Glen Davis) has planned for the family to all come and surprise his mother. As the preparations go on, the rain keeps falling and it seems some repairs that were recently done to the roof were not finished, so it is raining IN the house as well.
There is another son, her eldest,Spencer ( James T. Alfred) and a sort of daughter, who was raised as her own, Cookie (another strong performance by Alana Arenas). Her life is estranged from Shelah and she only comes back when in need. She does come back and during the two hour production we learn a great deal about the relationships between mother and sons, mother and would-be-daughter as well as Shelah’s situation health-wise. It seems that she is terminal and has promised her doctor ( Played to perfection as a small town doctor, by Tim Hopper), who shows up at the party to make sure she does. It is her plane, not knowing about the party to have gathered her family for this day for that exact purpose, but as the day goes on, people slip up and she finds out what the real plan is. Her best friend Mae ( a comical character played just right by the remarkable Jacqueline Williams) cares deeply for this family, as if it were her own and the other two characters in the home are Creaker (Kyle Beltran, thru May 19th) and his father, Creaker (Ron Cephas Jones), who help around the home. By the way, Mr. Beltran has a beautiful singing voice, one that should be explored by some of the musical theaters.
The last character in the play is a mystery man , the one that only is seen by Shelah, the Angel who in act two is the Construction Worker ( an elegant performance by Chris Boykin). Turns out he is there to lead Shelah to her glory, to her lord and heaven, but first, there are a few things that need to be resolved. When he comes back in the second act as The Construction Worker, it is a chance for Ms. Bruce to really show her stuff. I don’t want to give it all away, but the storms never stops and the home, flooding and being on a marshland crumbles. The act one ending will shock you. Many people jumped out of their seats at the realism of what happens. Many unusual events take place during this “visit” that are also ones that I will not tell you about, but as the play progresses, the story gets stronger and thanks to the brilliant direction of Tina Landau , all the surprises and twists work.
This is a warm and heartwarming story about not just Shelah, but the entire family and friends and neighbors in a small, rural community. The story also deals with Faith, for those who have it as well as those who lack even a speck of same. We also learn about family and relationships and that special “faith relationship” between The Angel and Shelah. There is some special chemistry between Ms Bruce and Mr.Boykin ( as he does both roles, they are different, as well). None of know what the future will be, but as a Rabbi once said to me, The past is to learn from, the future is the unknown we will face and the present is just that, a GIFT, so enjoy each day! . Shelah is ready to face her future with open arms, but perhaps the future is not ready for her!
This is a total production. Every little piece fits to perfection. From the set, the lighting( Scott Zielinski), the costumes (Toni-Leslie James), The sound and original music (Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen) and the crew who handled the movement of many props and set pieces during the show and between the acts. This is a solid two hours of theater that will continue at Steppenwolf located at 1650 N. Halsted Street, through June 9th with performances as follows:
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. ( 2 p.m. matinees start 5/22)
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. ( no p.m. show on 6/2 and 6/9)
Tickets range from $20-$78 and are available at the box office, by phone at 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
There are student discounts, and don’t forget that each performance 20 tickets are available at $20 ( day of performance only- subject to availability).
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com , go to Review Round-up and click at “head of Passes”