Kukui Kikuyu Productions’ Passing – A Stage Play is a fascinating psychological character study in which secrets revealed inevitably lead to a shockingly tragic end which deserves a long life beyond Fringe.
The production is an adaptation of the famous 1929 Nella Larsen novella about the not uncommon early 20th century practice of light-skinned African Americans who chose to “pass over” as white. In this era the “one drop of blood” rule meant any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan-African ancestry was considered black (or “Negro” in period lingo), therefore suffering harsh discrimination and reduced opportunities.
The story opens with a brief scene in the present in which an ambiguous confrontation frames the drama. The action then flashes back to tell the story of the main characters over a period of years.
Clare is a mixed-blood blond beauty (played with giggly charm by Angeleaza Anderson) who grew up on Chicago’s South Side under the oppression of a pair of strictly religious paternal aunts after her white father died. It’s hardly surprising that she opted to flee that home at an early age when she has the chance to marry a rich white businessman John Bellew (a powerful Thomas Shuman).
Passing – A Stage Play
closes July 19, 2017
Details and tickets
One day Clare recognizes a childhood friend Irene (the multifaceted central character masterfully played by Jocelyn Hunt). Clare is eager to get together with Irene and Gertrude (Marili Kateri), another woman from her youth. The women meet Clare’s husband John, who turns out to be a shockingly hateful racist.
The women manage to cover for Clare since both are also light-skinned and capable of passing for white. Yet Irene is troubled about the danger of the situation for Clare and her daughter Marjorie (who is being educated in a Swiss boarding school).
Over time Clare is insistent about wanting to spend time with Irene, especially after the action shifts to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. She is lonely, especially missing socializing with members of the black community, and is the type of character who is willing to take dangerous risks to get what she wants.
Yet Irene resists the association for a variety of reasons that may underlie their complex relationship. Is it just concern about Clare’s safety, jealous worries about her husband, Brian (the smooth and handsome Jeremy Keith Hunter), or perhaps even fears of a homoerotic attraction between the two women?
While it’s hard for a 75 minute play to capture all of the rich psychological subtleties of the novella, writer/producers Nileah Bell and Mary Nyingi do a fine job adapting the essential elements of the story and its themes. The script fleshes out the main characters, moves along the essential plot points, reveals the social concerns of the period, and maintains an ominous and relentless progression to a violent conclusion.
The production benefits from the skillful direction of Andrew Watring, who maintains an interesting pace while skillfully maneuvering the characters. At times the play also effectively uses the full cast (which also includes Amanda Diamond, Joe Graf, and Inestin Petit-Homme) as a nonverbal Greek chorus (e.g., rising from their chairs at the back of the stage in shock the first time “passing over” is mentioned).
The first performance of Passing – A Stage Play was a sellout before an appreciative audience. This critic hopes that this work has a life after Fringe in larger productions. Meanwhile, don’t take the risk of missing this outstanding production.