Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, March 3

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Havana Blue: A Cuban Inspiration Art Around Town »

Performance Wed Apr 17 2013

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away: Head of Passes

HeadofPasses_Production07.jpgWhen Steppenwolf's house lights dimmed for the first act of Tarell Alvin McCraney's Head of Passes, I was immediately transported to the South, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, on an afternoon when the air was heavy in the way it can be only before a thunderstorm. This heaviness not only gave the play its setting, but also its tone, suspending the audience in a disbelief broken only once in two hours by the single 15-minute intermission.

Head of Passes begins on the eve of Shelah's (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) birthday, a date this spiritual woman and mother of three has been too busy to remember. Her middle son, Aubrey (Glenn Davis) is in high spirits as he seeks to make his mother's birthday one she'll never forget -- despite the leaks in the living room, representative of the cracks developing within their family -- complete with cake, scotch, laughter and family. However, these are not the reasons that Shelah will remember this night, and the tragic turn of events haunts her long into the future.

At my parents' home in Colorado, there's a barometer on the wall to warn of pressure changes that may indicate a coming storm. They don't often need to check the barometer, because our little tuxedo cat has his own built in. For hours before the thunder begins, the cat lets out these terrible noises -- loud screeching meows that remind me a little of a tornado siren -- and runs around the house, anxious and restless, unable to escape from what he feels is coming. To a degree, we all feel anxiety preceding a storm -- an instinct that Head of Passes uses to its advantage. The characters in the play run around anxiously and howl warnings in their own subconscious way, as they feel the physical and figurative storms coming in their direction. The approaching squall will tear down the house they grew up in and the home they built within it.

Shelah is a woman of advanced years and of God -- praying constantly, speaking out loud to God, and making sure "vain" phrases as innocent as "deviled eggs" aren't spoken in her home. She is the embodiment of the soulful wisdom of the South, and she is ready to claim her place in Heaven. When an angel appears to her several times on the night of her birthday yet she isn't given release from her earthly life, she believes that God is punishing her. But through all of the questions, tears, illnesses and hardships, she remains faithful to a god with a higher understanding and plan for everyone and everything.

There is a great deal of humor in this play as well, although sometimes it's the desperate, tragic humor that surfaces at funerals and during national catastrophes. I found it amazing how well the cast portrayed a family. The audience feels as though they're looking in on something that's really happening, and the love and sadness are as tangible as the set itself. The set deserves a shout-out as well; Steppenwolf has built a full scale house on the stage that they destroy and resurrect with every performance.

Head of Passes runs through June 9 at Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets ($20-$78) may be purchased through the company's website.

GB store

Kevin Holt / April 19, 2013 9:37 AM

Bravo to our board and cast member Cheryl L. Bruce!

GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15