Head of Passes is the place at the southernmost tip of Louisiana where the mouth of the Mississippi River branches off into the Gulf of Mexico. It is remote and unpredictable, making it an apt setting for this emotional play about faith and family.
Head of Passes covers familiar ground. There’s the matriarch with an announcement (Cheryl Lynn Burke), the estranged sibling (Nikkole Salter), rivalries, and secret loves. Where it feels new and innovative is in Tarrell Alvin McCraney’s examination of faith, and the Angel (Sullivan Jones), who only the Shelah (Burke) is aware of.
McCraney’s script is tight and realistic. Thoughts are dropped, characters talk over each other, and sometimes the audience has to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Each interaction is important, either in establishing relationships or moving the story along. This allows each member of the ensemble to shine under Tina Landau’s direction. From Shelah’s sons (Francois Battiste and Brian Tyree Henry), to the neighbor (Kimberly Scott), the family doctor (James Carpenter), father/son team of Creaker and Crier (Michael A. Shepperd and Jonathan Burke), all characters have their contribution to the story.
The production only falters in the second act, when Shelah and the Angel are on stage alone. However, that could be the ignorance of the audience rather than the production itself. I can only speculate based on what I overheard, but it seemed to me that the faith practiced at the tip of Louisiana is foreign to many Bay Area audience members. It takes an appreciation and familiarity of the Baptist traditions to really understand what the production is going for.
That being said, this production is well worth your time and money.
Reasons to Go:
- Every member of the ensemble is fantastic
- Diversity on stage: an almost entirely Black cast
- The set is beautiful
Who Should Go: Teens through adults
- Some nights have docent talks before the show
- Some nights have post-show discussions
- Half-price tickets available for those under 30
- $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain
Themes: Faith, family, violence
Advisory: Some might be concerned about the use of water as an effect, but the water is reused and recycled
Show Information: via Berkeley Rep; until May 24