What if you woke up and found that you had been stripped of your identity? You no longer live in America—instead, you live in Country X. Then, you notice that you no longer have your name. You’re known only as a letter in the alphabet. And it’s not just you. It’s everyone. Now, all of a sudden, the social tensions become blurred, and our perspectives uncertain, and we’re forced to define our identity amongst each other in a new way. The Wilma Theatre unpacks this primal idea with the evocative, transformative play “Passage” this spring.
“Passage” is described as a fantasia on E.M. Forster’s “A Passage to India,” a 1924 novel set during the British crown rule in India. The adaptation seeks to answer the question: “Is it possible to be friends with someone who is fundamentally different from you?” It’s complicated, and Justin Jain discussed how “Passage” challenges the “binary lens” that we’ve been reading with the last few years in America.
“We’re living in a tumultuous time where it's us versus them,” Jain said, who plays Q in the show. “Q is blindly going into Country X to experience culture and take ownership in an innocent way, and my character digs a little too deep and ultimately makes a mistake that changes the course of the whole play.” Jain noted that the script has pushed him into a complex interrogation of his own privilege both inside and outside of the performance.
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Jain, a first-generation Filipino American gay man, found the conversations in the story about colonialism and racial and sexual identities enlightening, and similar to the conversations he’s had with people close to him. These kinds of conversations aren’t always comfortable, and “Passage” puts vexing questions into the hands of the audience.
By naming the characters and countries letters, playwright Christopher Chen has “stripped the story of any identity, place, and any cultural and political connection,” Jain added. “It can be very easy to put all the minority in one country and the majority in another, but we’re trying to ask the audience that you are both Country X and Y.” In doing so, it puts the themes and the relevancy of the metaphor in the audience’s own mind. The interpretation of identity, in all its intertwining, non-binary spectrum, becomes their responsibility as much as it is on the performers and their characters.
“This play is very now,” Jain concluded. “On paper and on the surface, it sounds like it’s about big ideas, but really it’s about personal relationships in political unrest. How do we both hold big ideas but tease out that it's about human connection and all the shades of love between people and their ideas.”
“Passage,” directed by Blanka Zizka, opens at The Wilma Theater on April 18 and runs through May 13. Tickets are available at wilmatheater.org, by calling 215.546.7824, or the theater’s box office.