REVIEW: Insightful and Intriguing, Oakland University’s ‘Passage’ is a Powerful Journey Worth Taking

An attentive and appreciative crowd welcomed back live theatre to Oakland University (OU) for the opening night of Passage. Written by Chinese-American playwright Christopher Chen, this gripping and enigmatic play runs until Oct. 17 in the Varner Studio Theatre on the OU campus in Rochester, MI.

The last time I sat inside Varner Studio Theatre was to review Macbeth on February 6, 2020, and it was a little sad thinking about those seniors who I never got to see take their final bow before moving on to the next phase of their careers. The good news is Passage has plenty of new-to-me faces (Alexander Hernandez, Cassius Merriweather, and Juju Palmer), and with that comes the excitement of seeing how each of them will carry on the celebrated tradition of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

Inspired by E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, dramaturg Jane Lyszak characterizes Passage as a “minimalist fable.” There is no set time or place for the story and the stage is kept intentionally bare so that the audience isn’t distracted from the narrative with competing visuals. Even the characters’ identities are ambiguous. Instead of names, they are referred to by letters of the alphabet. This omission allows for greater freedom to keep each character’s identity fluid rather than fixed, and the neutrality is further enforced by the costumes which are all various shades of gray. The only time color appears on stage is to denote citizens of Country X (red) and Country Y (blue). Chen was quoted in an interview as saying, “the main journey of all his plays is a digging process, where a reality is presented and we see below that, and then we see below that.” Director Brandon A. Wright takes that notion a step further when he says in his notes that “the characters, the conversations are all meant to illuminate pieces of us that are too often buried under societal debris (race, ability, identity, and others).”

The cast of Christopher Chen’s ‘Passage.’ Photo credit JLBoone Photography

Passage exposes prejudices through interactions between the citizens of Country X and Y. Natives of Country X think they are better and aren’t afraid to say it when the right buttons are pushed. We first see this mindset in a conversation between H (Lilija Shuger) and M (Anna De Valois Konna). H feels Country X citizens should always be given priority over Country Y citizens, while M disagrees. But this divisive thinking can also be found between natives of Country Y. Lovers Q (Aurora Renee) and R (Braden Cooper) quickly learn they both have different views of living in Country X. Q is so taken aback by R’s opinions exclaiming, “The creature I thought I knew. I made a terrible mistake.” Then there are the exchanges between B (Kaye Hoffmeyer), a prominent doctor of Country X, and F (Stanley Misevich), an idealistic native of Country Y. And for a bit, they give us a glimmer of hope that common ground can be achieved. But even that is short-lived. F tries desperately to appease both sides and spends most of his time feeling conflicted. The struggle is clearly etched on his face and in his voice. Each side wants his unwavering loyalty to the beliefs they hold. “How are we to move forward? What are we to do?” F implores.

Missteps and mistrust. Each character carries around very private wounds shaped by their experiences. Their conversations are our conversations. Why? Because there is familiarity in what is being said. We’ve all heard these arguments before. Even if you’ve not articulated them, they have most certainly crossed your mind. Let me assure you, while the subject matter may sound heavy or depressing, it’s not. There are moments of laughter, the dialogue flows freely and nothing feels forced. The entire cast does a phenomenal job in conveying the material.

Can common ground with others ever be achieved? Or are the prejudices we carry too deeply rooted? “Even if you practice empathy, can you ever truly understand another person’s experience?” asks G (Jalen Wilson-Nelem), a professor, religious and spiritual guide of Country X. Esteemed playwright August Wilson seems to suggest it’s worth a try, “Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”

The performance is an hour and a half with no intermission.

Tickets are $15 for general admission or $8 for students and children and must be purchased in advance at

Oakland University has instituted a COVID vaccine mandate for audiences in the Studio Theatre and the Lab Theatre because of the intimate proximity of the performers and audience. In addition to wearing a mask, audience members should be prepared to show their vaccination cards and photo ID along with their OU health screening results. Documents will not be photographed or saved.

Ticket buyers may receive an email with special instructions on the day of the event. Tickets may be printed at home or presented on mobile devices at the door. All events are subject to change. Any changes or additions to our season calendar will be posted on the SMTD website. Maps and parking information are available at

Start your journey of self-exploration at one of these remaining performances:

• Friday, October 8 at 8 p.m.

• Saturday, October 9 at 8 p.m.

• Sunday, October 10 at 2 p.m.

• Thursday, October 14 at 8 p.m.

• Friday, October 15 at 8 p.m.

• Saturday, October 14 at 8 p.m.

• Sunday, October 17 at 2 p.m.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at

Speak Your Mind