Review: Head of Passes (Steppenwolf Theatre)

| April 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Alana Arenas star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
       
Head of Passes 

Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Directed by Tina Landau
at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
thru June 9  |  tickets: $20-$78   |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
        Read entire review
     



     
       

You might want to pass on ‘Passes’

     

Jacqueline Williams, Kyle Beltran, Ron Cephas Jones and Tim Hopper star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

    
Steppenwolf Theatre presents
    
Head of Passes

Review by Lauren Whalen 

For the last two seasons, Steppenwolf Theatre Company has kicked off with a bang, only to peter out toward the end. Clybourne Park (2011) and Good People (2012) were two of the most provocative, stunning plays I’ve ever seen. Though they weren’t quite as strong, I thoroughly enjoyed last season’s closer Three Sisters and this past January’s The Motherf*cker With the Hat. Everything else has edged away from “hit” straight into “miss”. Sadly, the world premiere of Head of Passes is squarely in “miss” territory, with an inconsistent script and acting to match.

Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Shelah in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)Company member Tarell Alvin McCraney fashioned Head of Passes after the Biblical story of Job. I was surprised to learn this after the show, while reading the press release, as I didn’t get that sense at all while watching. Job’s God-given challenges occur consistently, worsening over a period of time, whereas the tragedies that befall Louisiana matriarch Shelah (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) happen in the course of two days: the eve and the date of her birthday. There’s no real indication this is any sort of test for the faithful Shelah, more just a string of very bad luck.

McCraney also collaborated with director Tina Landau on Steppenwolf’s 2010 hit The Brother/Sister Plays. Head of Passes, however, is rife with uncertainty. He can’t quite decide what he wants the show to be: darkly funny family tale, a parable of karma with a supernatural twist, or an allegory of patience and death straight out of the Old Testament. The show’s second act is a dramatic departure from the first, which could have worked if it weren’t so inorganic. The symbolism (a house on the verge of collapse) is overwrought, and most of the play’s turning points take place offstage, hurriedly narrated after the fact. The most basic rule of writing – show, don’t tell – is largely discarded.

Passes’ supporting performances are largely forgettable, save Jacqueline Williams as a flamboyant family friend and ensemble member Tim Hopper as Shelah’s doctor (who displays a surprising ability to boogie). Bruce is a dynamic Shelah, holding her own with soulful authority in the midst of a devastating physical and emotional decline. David Gallo’s design of the crumbling house is phenomenally realistic, and there’s a breathtaking effect that closes Act I (perhaps a reward for the long-winded exposition of the previous hour?).

Kyle Beltran and Ron Cephas Jones star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Tim Hopper, Ron Cephas Jones, James T. Alfred, Jacqueline Williams and Glenn Davis star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)
Glenn Davis, James T. Alfred, Cheryl Lynn Bruce in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Chris Boykin star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

A note on PassesPR materials: I am an unabashedly huge fan of ensemble member Alana Arenas. She almost redeemed 2011’s very mediocre Middletown – an accomplishment in itself – and brought beautiful gravity to both Three Sisters and Good People. I also understand that Steppenwolf may prefer to feature resident ensemble members (Passes only has three, and one of them is present for the second half of the run), and that casting may not be complete by the time said images must be produced. However, featuring Arenas so heavily in Head of Passes materials is very misleading: though she’s wonderful as usual, the role of prodigal daughter Cookie is a cameo at best. She’s not the main character, and calling her “supporting” is generous. Head of Passes is Shelah’s story, and with a tighter script, it could be a good one.

  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Head of Passes continues through June 9th at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and 7:30pm.  Tickets are $20-$78, and are available by phone (312-335-1650) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Steppenwolf.org(Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Cheryl Lynn Bruce star as Shelah in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


     

artists

cast

Alana Arenas (Cookie), Jon Michael Hill (Crier – May 21-June 9), Tim Hopper (Dr. Anderson), James T. Alfred (Spencer), Kyle Beltran (Crier – April 4-May 19), Chris Boykin (Angel, Construction Worker), Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Shelah), Glenn Davis (Aubrey), Ron Cephas Jones (Creaker), Jacqueline Williams (Mae), Brittani Arlandis Green, Rob Glidden, Joslyn Jones, Julian Parker, Austin Talley (understudies)

behind the scenes

Tina Landau (director), David Gallo (set design), Collette Pollard (set design consultant), Toni Leslie James (costumes), Scott Zielinski (lighting), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound design, original music), Erica Daniels (casting), Jacob Padron (dramaturg), Laura D. Glenn (stage manager), Cassie Wolgamott (asst. stage manager), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Tim Hopper and Cheryl Lynn Bruce star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Head of Passes" by Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

13-0425

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: 2013 Reviews, Lauren Whalen, New Work, Steppenwolf, World Premier

Comments (0)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.

Leave a Reply