Thought provoking, touching and incredibly true-to-life, Dan Sareen’s Passing provides thoughtful insight into the cultural conflicts that can come with the biracial experience. Directed by Imy Wyatt Corner, this 2 hour snapshot of contemporary family life aims high, earning some well-deserved laughs balanced with moments of sincere poignance.
The concept is unique, fresh and illuminating, providing text that sticks with you beyond the confines of the theatre
A wonderful balance is created on stage as the characters navigate conflict and resolution. The personalities on stage are perfectly dissonant yet interact with palpable chemistry. It was always delightfully awkward to see the clumsiness of Rachel’s boyfriend, Matt (Jack Flammiger), combined with his desperation to please, particularly in contrast with the family tension. The actors do a wonderful job of conveying an incredibly believable family dynamic on stage. This is facilitated with Wyatt Corner’s clever direction that clearly informs the actors’ naturalistic physicality on stage.
In my experience, when it comes to plays that offer a snapshot of family life where the audience enter with typically little to no exposition, first impressions tend to carry significant weight throughout the performance. This, in the most part, is executed successfully: David (Kishore Walker) is the sarcastic maverick, Yash (Bhasker Patel) is endearingly stubborn with ‘traditional’ family values, Ruth (Catherine Cusack) is the peacekeeper, Matt is the awkward newcomer who keeps saying the wrong thing. However, to her own admission, Rachel (Amy-Leigh Hickman) initially comes across as quite argumentative and controlling. Without much contextual knowledge of the character (only her age and that she lives with her parents) this risks dampening the audience’s connection to the titular character. As a result of her slightly tricky personality, there are times where conflict and debate do not feel as authentic as other aspects of the dialogue.
This is remedied later in the play when we witness Rachel’s vulnerability and struggle to gain her family’s understanding and empathy, which strongly invokes pathos. Moreover, it is Hickman’s powerful and tender performance that fortifies the weak points of Rachel’s character-as-written. She highlights the fear and emotion that comes with opening up about racial and cultural tension with a beautiful sincerity. Her vulnerability towards the end of the play is gripping, and we hang on her every word. It could be argued that Sareen was deliberate in creating an ambiguous lead; however, I maintain that the play would be elevated by fleshing out Rachel’s character, helping the audience further understand her motivations and triggers.
I hasten to add that Sareen should be applauded for the overall intelligence of his writing. The concept is unique, fresh and illuminating, providing text that sticks with you beyond the confines of the theatre, such as: “there is something about being non-white that isn’t left behind with the playground bullying”. In particular, I found Sareen’s work with David’s character to be very effective. His sarcastic and blunt persona delightfully contrasts with Rachel’s seriousness; nevertheless he acknowledges his sister’s pain and validates her by opening up about his own experiences, making for a beautiful moment on stage.
Overall, Passing is a clever and intriguing play which, with a couple of tweaks, would flourish in any theatre. The cast and creative team behind this production do a fantastic job in exploring the light and shade in the text and the characters are elevated by the impressive cast who maintain consist energy and dynamism on stage.