Head of Passes Review - A Steppenwolf Premiere, Powerful and Deep

According to Wikipedia “The Head of Passes is considered to be the location of the mouth of the Mississippi River.” Its Geographic coordinates are 29.157°N 89.254°W.  Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play takes its name from this place. This highly anticipated world-premiere production of Head of Passes by Steppenwolf Theatre ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney, directed by Tina Landau is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre until June 9, 2013. It is a wise, warm drama about faith, family and finding your place in the world. It is a must see.


This is the story of Shelah, the family matriarch, a woman who has raised three children and helped her husband run a bed and breakfast located in the Head of Passes - the mysterious shifting marshlands at the mouth of the great Mississippi River.  It is her birthday and preparations are under way and it is raining.  Raining so hard it leaks through the roof of the house, which is in need of significant repair.  We meet Shelah’s long time friend, Mae (Jacqueline Williams), Shelah’s children, loyal workman and his son, her doctor and a mystical figure –the angel. Since the play was inspired by the biblical Book of Job, I wondered where this pleasant beginning would lead.  Later, I found out. What is the nature of faith when one's life changes dramatically? 


This play was deeply moving, powerful and absolutely compelling. Each of the cast members was strong and convincing but Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Shelah was amazing.  That she was able to sustain the degree of power and energy throughout was very moving and impressive. Kyle Beltran as Crier had a lovely voice. David Gallo (scenic design), Collette Pollard (scenic design consultant), created a set that is as interesting as the play.


Head of Passes is intriguing in both its content and form—or rather, in the way that the form moves us into the heart of the play's intensifying interrogation of faith,” comments Artistic Director Martha Lavey. “The divine intervention in our lives may come to us in surprising garb and speak to us the language of humility. The membrane between this world and the unseen world may be porous. We must endure our doubt, we must endure not knowing. Somewhere in that, is our faith.”


The cast of Head of Passes features ensemble members Alana Arenas as Cookie, Jon Michael Hill as Crier (May 21 – June 9), and Tim Hopper as Dr. Anderson with James T. Alfred as Spencer, Kyle Beltran as Crier (April 4 – May 19), Chris Boykin as Angel/Construction Worker, Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Shelah, Glenn Davis as Aubrey, Ron Cephas Jones as Creaker, and Jacqueline Williams as Mae.


The production team for Head of Passes includes: David Gallo (scenic design), Collette Pollard (scenic design consultant), Toni Leslie James (costume design), Scott Zielinski (lighting design) and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound design and original music). Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Jacob Padrón (dramaturg), Laura D. Glenn (stage manager) and Cassie Wolgamott (assistant stage manager).


Tickets to Head of Passes ($20 – $78) are currently on sale through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org. 20 for $20: twenty $20 tickets are available through Audience Services beginning at 11am on the day of each performance (1pm for Sunday performances). Rush Tickets: half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show. Student Discounts: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available online using promo code “PASSES15”. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each ticket. For additional student discounts, visit steppenwolf.org/students. Group Tickets: all groups of 10 or more receive a discounted rate for any performance throughout the season. For additional information, visit steppenwolf.org/groups.

Free post-show discussions are offered after every performance in the Subscription Season. Steppenwolf is located near all forms of public transportation and is wheelchair accessible. Street and lot parking are available. Assistive listening devices and large-print programs are available for every performance.


Photos: Michael Brosilow


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