At DT&D we love all theater, but we have a special place in our heart for new works. When Berkeley Rep invited us to a Represent night to see their production of Head of Passes, a new play by the “astonishingly gifted” (e.g. young and talented) playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, we jumped at the chance. Unfortunately for Katie, only Brittany was free, so she and her boyfriend Sam went out for a date night of Drama Talk & Drinks.
Brittany: Did you like it?
Sam: I did. I feel like everyone in the play was made to represent one of the deadly sins. The son that was obsessed with how they would look to their church friends, Aubrey (Francois Battiste) was pride. The other son, Spencer (Brian Tyree Henry), was sloth. Cookie (Nikkole Salter) was…maybe gluttony…or greed. She was greed, she stole that stuff.
B: But the reason she stole stuff was for drugs which she was driven to because she was molested as a child.
S: Okay fair, but it’s still partially greed. And I guess the dead father is lust. And then the friends…
B: I don’t know if they’re really supposed to be the seven deadly sins. They’re just all imperfect people.
S: Maybe, but the guy, umm Creaker, he was anger. The doctor and Mae were gluttony since they drank all the booze. I don’t know who was envy…maybe Mae was envy.
B: I mean maybe, the play is definitely based in the Bible, but the characters were all too complex to just be emblematic of one sin. It’s a contemporary retelling of the story of Job, just set in coastal Louisiana. In Job people weren’t killed because they were sinful. God was testing Job’s faith. That’s part of what makes the story so tragic. Bad things happen to good people.
S: They didn’t teach Job in my Hebrew school.
B: Probably because it’s such a hard story. No one wants to hear that no matter how good you are, or faithful you are, or whatever, God will still test you and shit will happen.
S: Well the set was fantastic, it was one of the best sets I’ve seen in my life.
B: I really liked the first act. They really captured the cacophony of family drama. The second act was hard though. That final soliloquy is long and intense, and since the actress (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) had to call “line” a few times it lost some momentum.
S: In the pre-show talk the playwright said he added like 100 new pages to the script in the last two weeks. I can’t memorize 10 pages in two weeks, I was impressed she stayed in the moment as well as she did.
B: Definitely, the actress who played Shelah was amazingly talented, but having a prompters voice reading the line flat breaks the momentum no matter what. It was the biggest problem I had with the show. I feel like everyone in the audience was over it by the end. It’s like the Monty Python joke “I’m not dead yet.” She was supposed to die, and it just kept going as the house was crumbling around her.
S: But that was amazing, the set falling apart, and the water. Such cool staging.
B: I agree, but when I went to the bathroom I overheard someone else saying, “Thank God she finally died.” It’s a good show, I really enjoyed it, but the second act needs tightening.
The Verdict: Head of Passes is a promising new work. As always Berkeley Rep has extremely talented actors and designers. Go if nothing else to see a really cool set and well thought out design. By the end of the run (May 24th) it’s going to be great, but give the actors a week to work out the kinks of last minute additions to the script. Be prepared for an emotional night, if that final monologue is done to its full potential there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
The Drama Talk: Seriously, the set is dope. There’s lots and lots of water on stage which makes for really beautiful pictures and interesting sound effects. The show has the intimacy of a living room drama, the epic-ness of a Shakespearean tragedy, and the magical realism of a Kushner all rolled into one. This is only the second time this play has been staged (it was conceived and first performed at Steppenwolf in Chicago, the playwrights home theater), and there are still some kinks particularly in the second act, but McCraney is definitely a playwright to watch. The actors are all extremely talented, particularly Cheryl Lynn Bruce who play Shelah. She has the unenviable task of performing most of the second act alone with one of the most intense monologues we’ve seen in recent memory.
The Drinks: Berkeley Rep has a bar in the theater and since it was opening night they gave us passes for half-off drinks. Who can say no to half-off wine? We got our glasses and went over to the lobby of the proscenium theater and watched the final 15 minutes of Tartuffe on the monitor. One and ¼ of a Berkeley Rep show and half off drinks, not a bad date night.
Head of Passes runs through May 24th on Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage. Tickets are $29-$79 and available through Berkeley Rep’s website. If you’re still under the age of 30 half price tickets are also available for most performances. Those can also be booked online, but you’ll need to show an ID with proof of age to pick up your tickets.