I was sorry to see so many empty seats during last Friday’s performance of Head of Passes, an absorbing drama about calamity, grief, acceptance, and faith. While not perfect, the current Steppenwolf Theater main stage production, a world premiere by Tarell Alvin McCraney, is a thought-provoking and timely piece that deserves a wider audience.
Set in Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River, members gather at the family home on a stormy evening to celebrate matriarch Shelah’s birthday. A leaking roof and an unexpected guest (the woman’s doctor) are portents of doom. And then there’s the handsome stranger who’s hanging around, a smiling man only Shelah can see.
Family and friends mix it up in a lively first act while water drains through the house from the roof and a slow tension builds. The story, based on the Book of Job, takes a slightly surreal turn in the second half. Shelah, who has resigned herself to one fate, is served up another, greater challenge, which tests her faith in ways she could never have imagined.
Performances across the board are strong and well drawn but the undisputed star of this show is the phenomenal set by David Gallo. The first act concludes with a heart-stopping, thrill ride of a theatrical moment that on its own is worth the price of admission.
Head of Passes runs through June 9.