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Review: Antoinette Nwandu’s jarring play ‘Pass Over’ makes an energetic leap to the screen thanks to Spike Lee

Julian Parker, left, and Jon Michael Hill in "Pass Over."
(Chayse Irvin / Amazon Studios)

“Waiting for Godot” meets “Do the Right Thing” in “Pass Over,” director Spike Lee’s filmed version of Antoinette Nwandu’s electrifying play, which debuted in June 2017 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre under the direction of Danya Taymor.

The movie, shot on the Steppenwolf stage in September in front of an invited audience that included local community groups (whose arrival and departure buoyantly bookend the film), proves a brief yet rousing experience, one that retains its theatrical power — and then some — via Lee’s deftly constructed transfer.

Original cast members Jon Michael Hill and Julian Parker vibrantly star as, respectively, the guarded Moses and jauntier Kitch, two homeless African American men encamped on a volatile urban street corner, which is re-created on an effectively spare set.

The duo spend their time trading boisterous, N-word-filled, often absurdist banter (Nwandu has cited “Godot’s” Samuel Beckett as one of several influences); dodging gunfire and dreaming of the day they will “pass over” to a better existence.

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Moses and Kitch’s reveries are vividly interrupted by Mister (Ryan Hallahan, another original cast player), a clueless, upper-crust white man who wanders into the ’hood with a brimming picnic basket, and later by a racist cop (Blake DeLong) who will factor in with more dire consequences.

Hopefully, Nwandu’s compact tale, so rich with jarring authenticity and boldly configured social commentary, can now reach a wide and appreciative audience via Lee’s provocative, propulsive film.

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‘Pass Over’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Playing: Streaming on Amazon Prime

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