Mark Taper Forum
Los Angeles

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Critics LemonMeter


An astonishing, deeply moving new drama about family, acceptance, and the power of faith from MacArthur “Genius Award”-winning playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (The Brother/Sister Plays, Oscar® winner for Moonlight), featuring Tony Award® winner Phylicia Rashad. At the mouth of the Mississippi River, Shelah’s family and friends have come to celebrate her birthday and save her from a leaking roof. But in this contemporary parable inspired by the Book of Job, unexpected events turn the reunion into the ultimate test of faith and love. As her world seems to collapse around her, Shelah (Rashad) must fight to survive the rising flood of life’s greatest challenges in this poetic and piercing new play.


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"Rashad is good enough that you wonder if there’s a simpler version of this play that’s just an extraordinary solo performance, since that is what it may as well be anyway. If you set the theatrics aside and focus on only the meat of the story, this would probably be a 20 minute play, which is to be expected given that parables are defined by their simplicity."

"This is a remarkable and authoritative performance, showing all of us what great acting is. And that only happens when great writing allows us to scale the heights."

"Phylicia Rashad is certainly a force of nature, although the only uncluttered place left for her to explore is littered with Terrell Alvin McCraney’s continuous clichés. His newest play is chockfull of good god-fearin’ born-again eye-flutterin' and the lifting of palms to the heavens while constantly telling others how to live their lives. Director Tina Landau, however, leads her startlingly gifted ensemble and the no-holds-barred performance of Rashad with amazing grace."

"...[F]aith—and salvation, if that’s what you aspire to—is not individualistic. We express our compassion not just in the credos we recite, but primarily in relation to others. Standing fast in obstinate solitude will not save you or anyone else. Shelah is herself a “head of passes”—the family leader who passes on accepting an outstretched hand. If some theatergoers see McCraney’s play as about the “power of faith,” others are equally right to point to its futility, and even the selfishness of it."

"“Head of Passes” doesn’t end in catharsis. McCraney denies his audience such consolation. But the knowledge born of suffering that dawns in Rashad’s eyes is a theatrical sight you won’t soon forget."

"I rarely think in terms of ultimate superlatives—best, worst, funniest, saddest, or whatever—but this is the best play I’ve seen in years, the best cast, and the best, most luminous, truest, most shattering performance I’ve seen by anyone on a stage in Los Angeles, New York, or London."


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