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Phylicia Rashad is a tour de force in ‘Head of Passes’ at LA’s Mark Taper Forum

By in Press Enterprise on October 7, 2017

By Frances Baum Nicholson

Every once in a while, one comes across a performance that may even outweigh the play it takes place in. In this case, a good play becomes greater because of one person who takes a playwright’s words and their own and their director’s understandings and makes of them something much more than the sum of those parts.

This is Phylicia Rashad in “Head of Passes,” now at the Mark Taper Forum.

In Tarell Alvin McCraney’s modern spin on trials worthy of Job, a woman’s plans for a quiet conversation with her children about her tenuous future implodes in ways she could never expect, testing her faith in ways that leave her arguing with God in a setting Noah might recognize.

If all this sounds terribly religious, that’s not the only way to read the play. Still, the central character’s faith powers her responses, the effect she has had on those around her, and her eventual self-revelations in ways that would not be as palpable otherwise.

Rashad is Shelah, the matriarch of a family that has gathered at her house near the Head of Passes (where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico) to celebrate her birthday, whether she wants a celebration or not. There, on an island in the delta, and with a storm lashing at the house, she had hoped instead to quietly discuss her assets with her children before her obvious illness takes over.

Those who populate her world — a neighbor, a doctor, a helper and his son, and her own children — gather, fight, fuss over the house’s increasingly decrepit condition, anything but have that discussion. As the storm worsens, so do the revelations. And that is just the start.

As Shelah, Rashad creates that recognizable form of devout woman, talking to, appealing to, and venting anger at the God she has […]    

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