Steppenwolf Theatre presents the world-premiere of HEAD OF PASSES. Shelah has got some problems. Her roof is leaking. Her kids are fighting. And her health is failing. When her son throws her a surprise birthday party, she makes a final attempt to resolve her life. Although her house and family remain broken, Shelah finds her solace. She goes to sleep ready to rest in peace. Not so fast, Shelah! Instead of waking up in heaven, she realizes she’s in hell. Her world has toppled overnight. HEAD OF PASSES is an excellent testament to faith.
Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney penned his ode to the Book of Job. In the first act, he drops the audience into the house. In the second, he drops the house onto the audience. The first act engages with authentic family drama. The characters, dialogue and interactions clip as we determine who is who and what is what. McCraney pulls us securely into Shelah’s home and then pulls the rug out from under us. The first act ends with a startling implosion. The audience goes into the intermission breathless and wide-eyed. There is an anticipation that McCraney is taking us in a specific direction. So, when the second act starts spinning, we are left gasping in disbelief. I’m purposely trying not to give away too much information to ensure the reader’s experience is baptism-by-fire like mine was. Wow!
Under the masterful direction of Tina Landau, this cast is exceptional. The actors morph into these distinct and memorable personalities. The ensemble captivates the audience in their dysfunctional family antics. This established personal connection between audience and ensemble makes the second act all that more mind-boggling. They make us care… a lot! We become invested in this family’s welfare. Powerful! The entire cast is stellar and Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Shelah) reigns supreme. Bruce gives an exhausting emotional performance. Bruce commands the stage first as the loving matriarch and later as a woman tormented by her faith. In one scene, she independently plays out a church service. It’s hilarious and heart-breaking simultaneously. McCraney wrote a brilliant and original story of a woman’s test of faith. Bruce embodies the role and owns it!
HEAD OF PASSES is a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and soul-stirring experience. It’s the type of show that continues to percolate conversation long after the curtain. Aside from the writing, directing and acting, there is also a phenomenal house designed by David Gallo. Initially, it’s impressive just to see the details in the depth of the house. Later, Galla’s construction is gawk-able.
Running Time: Two hours includes an intermission
At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted
Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Tina Landau
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays at 7:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm
Thru June 9th
Buy Tickets at www.steppenwolf.org
Production photograph by Michael Brosilow