At some point in the evening we are told that this story bears a similarity to E. M. Forster’s A Passage To India. And we are instructed to immediately let that connection go because this is our story – including the audience. From the get-go we are told that we are part of this event. The result is that the evening often has the feel of a spiritual seminar, or an old-fashioned production of Dionysus in ’69 by the Performance Group which pretty much took the division of audience, actor and performance space and tossed it out the window. No such intermingling happened here. But we were on notice that we more than innocent bystanders.
In some parlance somewhere, Passage would be referred to as a great big Nothing Burger. It is, however, presented by some top-notch actors. Thus, what could be a disaster of an evening remains afloat, but just barely.
One of the repeated pleasures of visiting the Soho Rep is that this house continues to reinvent its modest space. The spare set by Arnulfo Maldonado is breathtaking. It spills over into the audience. Blonde Pine frames both encase and slice the space. The center is filled with a Lazy Susan of sorts that must be set on its turn manually. People walk in and out of the frames, around and over the Lazy Susan, and they make unending magic by pulling props out of boxes (HOW do they keep them all straight???) that also serve as tables and seats. Everything is earth tones and fluidity. Toni-Leslie James costumes are simple and universal. Amith Chandrashaker’s lights shape the space with ease and specificity.
The audience is allowed into this space only after we have each removed our shoes. Socks are optional. This is to suggest the ambience of a temple (which is what every theatre is of course). The cast enters, barefooted as well, and introduces themselves – real names and where they hail from. When this is done, each person puts on a pair of shoes and enters into the play. Go figure.
Country X has been colonized by Country Y. The ex-pats from Y are evident in all areas of the urban landscape and are both welcomed and resented. The most concrete scene that lays it out is between H (Purva Bedi) and M (David Ryan Smith) who are involved in an ongoing dispute – can the people of X be friends with ANYONE from Y. They choose as their judge B (K.K.Moggie) a nationally recognized surgeon who also feels the sting of the interlopers. At the center, of course, is a love story. R (Yair Ben-Dor) is being joined by his fiancée Q (Andrea Abello). Q finds R changed, harder, more closed-minded than when she knew him in Y. This is the center of the center where the unraveling occurs. There are other stories overlapping as well. Another X-pat F (Linda Powell)has returned for a second visit to X. An appearance by various species are all played by Howard W. Overshown. Lizan Mitchell (G) is our thoughtful guide and leader. Then there is the magic caves that need to be seen (and heard), and of course there is the catastrophe, and there is that odd 1 minute break in the middle of the show, and the alphabet soup of names that becomes unmanageable. When characters talk of other characters – we have no idea to whom they are referring. Therefore our connection to the story is lost. As we come to the end, the entire event heaves itself up for one last gasp and then settles into a pile of, well, nothing.
This is a supremely well-intentioned piece by Christopher Chen. He is thinking of the big picture as it is lived out in the small rooms of life. I hope he continues on this journey. But with Passage Chen swaps out specificity for generalities, details for philosophy, and emotions for platitudes. It ends up being a singularly uninteresting event – despite the intentions of the author and the fine work of this cast.
PASSAGE – by Christopher Chen; Directed by Saheem Ali
Cast Andrea Abello, Purva Bedi, Yair Ben-Dor, Lizan Mitchell, KK Moggie, Howard W. Overshown, Linda Powell and David Ryan Smith
Set by Arnulfo Maldonado; Costumes by Toni-Leslie James; lights by Amith Chandrashaker.Presented by Soho Rep46 Walker St.TriBeCa/SoHo TICKETS sohorep.org Through May 26th. Runtime 1 hr. and 40 min. No intermission.