Members say: Great acting, Great staging, Absorbing, Intense, Thought-provoking

About the show

The Public Theater presents the New York premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney's new drama about family and faith, trials and tribulations, starring Tony winner Phylicia Rashad.

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At the mouth of the Mississippi River, Shelah’s family and friends have come to celebrate her birthday and save her from a leaking roof. But in this contemporary parable inspired by the Book of Job, unexpected events turn the reunion into the ultimate test of faith and love. As her world seems to collapse around her, Shelah (Phylicia Rashad) must fight to survive the rising flood of life’s greatest challenges.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"Ms. Rashad will be hard pressed to ever again top her work here…The script could still use some fine-tuning to make the sucker punch of the second act land with maximum clout. But even as the play stands, you’ll look back and marvel at how Mr. McCraney and this expert production team have set you up. That’s partly the art of Ms. Landau and her top-drawer cast…Ultimately, it’s Ms. Rashad’s deeply felt, expertly shaded Shelah that gives the play its essential emotional continuity." Full Review


"Landau does her best to fill out McCraney's sketch by crafting believable relationships between the actors…Rashad serves as a life raft, rescuing the central story…Landau orchestrates some truly remarkable stagecraft…Unfortunately, the realistic water-filled craters onstage aren't quite enough to distract from the massive holes in McCraney's story. 'Head of Passes' has the potential to be the next great American play, but the author needs to shore up the basics first." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Tina Landau’s production is beautifully assembled; McCraney’s rich, flavorful dialogue rushes out compellingly from the persuasive cast of eight, and snags just when it should. McCraney is a huge talent, and the play is certainly worth seeing. But the realistic family-reunion half has only a tenuous connection with the outrageous misfortunes later on. Shelah may be Job, but 'Head of Passes' offers no God to explain her calamaties. She’s wrestling with her playwright." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"A startling but awkward new take on Job…Most of the first act passes busily, and often amusingly…The play becomes more and more abstract...McCraney’s flights of poetry are so fluently rendered by Rashad they seem like plainest prose…Unfortunately, this lyricism does not sit very well with a jokey spikiness...Each mode seems to undermine, not deepen, the other...In trying to humanize the great and mysterious parable, McCraney has set himself a challenge surely no playwright could meet." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Rashad commits herself with abandon...But by the final scene 'Head of Passes' has become a bewildering mish-mash of ideas and styles...It seems to be about nothing but giving a grand-manner actress the workout of her career...McCraney hasn't laid the groundwork for this long, loud burst of emotion, so it feels like a series of calculated effects. If he set out to write a powerful drama pitting a dying woman against her God, what he has ended up with is an overwrought star vehicle." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"A well-acted, richly atmospheric production...But the audience’s faith is also tested, in several ways…The ending of ‘Head of Passes’ turns into a long monologue, Shelah’s conversation with God, a challenge for any actress – and, frankly, for any audience. Phylicia Rashad is up to the challenge…Those struggling with their own religious faith might get the most out of the ending…But others will miss the embracing, engaging crowd of characters from Act I." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"'Head Of Passes' feels more like a first draft than a work honed by earlier mountings. It is messy, confused and has a verbal style that either the cast hasn’t nailed down yet or which doesn’t quite translate from the page. But you’d never confuse it with boring. No wonder McCraney attracts talent, with Landau directing and actress Rashad at the head of an excellent cast. The play remains flawed but they do it all the justice they can." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"‘Head of Passes’ an occasionally potent but structurally awkward play...Its principal value lies in watching Phylicia Rashad demonstrate the alchemical power of a great actress turning dramatic dross into theatrical gold. Almost as memorable is G.W. Mercier’s remarkable set...It begins as a realistic family dramedy and then magical realism for Shelah’s seven-page diatribe directed at God, which sounds like faux-Euripides and makes the play as lopsided as its act two set." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"The play is unwieldy, its epic, elemental developments springing inorganically from the psychological realism of the setup...However, McCraney's distinctive dialogue ensures that the drama remains absorbing, and Landau directs the strong cast with a keen ear for the musical rhythms of black Louisiana speech...Rashad supplies earthy gravitas throughout...Every character is vividly drawn...It's the flaws of the play, not the performances, that diminish its impact." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Rashad's immersion within Shelah is riveting, and the rage she wields while waging that battle profoundly chilling in its unvarnished honesty…Her tirade is explosive, harrowing, and cathartic, as only the best theatre can be. Alas, it's only a part of 'Head of Passes,' which otherwise fails to match these stunning heights...Shelah is the sole developed character…But with Rashad at the center of 'Head of Passes,' that part of this unsteady evening is never less than a joy." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"Tarell Alvin McCraney’s 'Head of Passes' is a story about faith that misses the mark on so many levels...The first act is talky and boring, and had I not been reviewing the play, I would have left. Act two however is more of a one-woman show...There is no subtlety, no layering...McCraney’s dialogue goes round and round and round in circles. Tina Landau’s direction is over the top and if any of these people understood true faith, I would be shocked." Full Review

New York Daily News

"An affecting but uneven saga…McCraney’s dialogue is a potent blend of the plainspoken and poetic...The cast and production, especially the shape-shifting set, impress under direction by Tina Landau. But on the downside, 'Head of Passes' doesn’t sidestep cliches. It can also come across as overwrought and windy. Still, Rashad’s gutsy, go-for-it performance is something to believe in." Full Review


"Hardly a problem free play. The final monologue goes on way too long though it's certainly a triumph for Phylicia Rashad. But impressive as Rashad is, her character's most extreme suffering comes off as somewhat rushed...The way she's pushed into the Job persona comes at the expense of a more sympathy arousing portrait of a mother facing unimaginable grief. Still, there's no faulting Mr. McCraney's talent, imagination and courage to explore new forms — or the very fine production." Full Review

Front Row Center

"Act one is a fairly standard kitchen sink drama...There’s a lot of buzz, chatter and exposition about who everyone is, and some fine comic moments. But it’s all a distraction from the family and what they feel...Most of the second act is a powerful, tour-de-force monologue by Shelah. It’s unfair that we aren’t weeping at the end of it, but that’s not her fault. Ms. Rashad has laid it all out and left it on the stage. Unfortunately, the play hasn’t set us up to care enough to cry." Full Review


"In creating the role of Shelah, he has put on stage a magnificent role for an actress of tremendous gifts. Phylicia Rashad rises to Greek tragic heights required by Shelah’s plight. However, the meaning and message of the play remain obscure, which tends to leave the audience outside of the play’s dramatic action. We watch mesmerized in horror as events unfold, but why they are happening and what is the underlying cause remains a mystery." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"The first act is a sometimes uneven mix of comedy and drama that ends with a bang...Rashad is superb but her full-throttle performance was not enough to distract me from the play’s weaknesses...Tina Landau directs with a feeling for the material. I give McCraney credit for trying something different with each play, but I found the current play overwrought, muddled and disjointed. The audience was very enthusiastic." Full Review

The Wrap

"From the very beginning of the play, McCraney prepares us for a big moment with Cookie; his writing, Rashad, and Arenas fully deliver on that promise. Too often, however, McCraney is less effective at preparing us for these big confrontations…Unfortunately, this playwright’s flair for comedy deserts him...This isn’t tragedy. This is creaky melodrama of the David Belasco variety, and Tina Landau’s direction and G.W. Mercier’s scenic design push it into that unfortunate arena." Full Review


"The roiling family tragedy is dominated by Rashad’s kaleidoscopic portrayal of this righteous, dying woman and her struggle with a cruel God…'Head of Passes,' knowingly directed by Tina Landau, seems to be a naturalistic, almost a straightforward family story…Then the rains come down, and worse, which leave Shelah with a mighty mad scene and a monologue of staggering intensity. The playwright gets closer to the dialogue-rich style of his mentor August Wilson." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"Rashad takes over the stage with such subtle power that it might even take a while before we become aware of the beauty of her technique...It’s an act of theatrical bravura that redefines the concept of 'force of nature.' Directed with by Tina Landau, and featuring astonishing scenic design by G.W. Mercier, 'Head of Passes,' haunts because of how it subverts tropes we thought we knew well." Full Review

Reflections in the Light

"Taut direction by Tina Landau keeps our attention focused...Phylicia Rashad is at the top of her game, turning in the most powerful performance I have seen her give...Tarell Alvin McCraney's script is compelling and more engaging than his 'Brother/Sister Plays'...The tale is kind of a bummer...The play probably would be better trimmed a bit and presented as a one act instead of breaking two hours with an intermission." Full Review

Village Voice

"McCraney's potent, poetic 'Head of Passes' — expertly directed by Tina Landau — is domestic drama in an apocalyptic key, and this cloudburst is a harbinger of deluges to come…This heightened tenor elevates his new play beyond domestic fare. One familial secret would make this an all too familiar affair, but McCraney's cataclysms keep expanding. In so doing, 'Head of Passes' issues a warning: Tend to those foundations, or face the inevitable cracks." Full Review

Reviewing The Drama

"Truly, it's a riveting performance from Ms. Rashad...Rashad's performance is like nothing you've seen before. She grabs hold of the material—and you—and doesn't let go until she's had her say, the water has flooded in (literally; fantastic scenic design by G.W. Mercier), and she feels she has reached... I don't know. A resolution? A new day? Maybe just some sort of stasis? Whatever it is, it will blow you away." Full Review

American Theater Web

"It’s the bifurcation of the piece that makes the production both intriguing and unsatisfying. Despite solid direction from Tina Landau, a superlative physical production, and fine performances, the two halves of 'Passes' never completely feel as if they belong together. Such complaints, however, can be put aside for one reason alone: Rashad’s bravura performance...Rashad’s exquisite performance makes 'Head of Passses' unquestionably compelling." Full Review

Epoch Times

"The work is tremendously complex…The play’s final, very long monologue gives Phylicia Rashad, alone on stage, the opportunity to display a power and breadth of emotion not often found in American writing. Rashad makes the most of this opportunity and executes a tour-de-force performance. Director Tina Landau rises to the occasion in conveying the play’s depth and importance." Full Review

NY Theatre Guide

"McCraney's words and Rashad's performance became something magical right in front of me. When author and actor are at the top of their games, this can happen...It was a privilege to be in the audience to see it, and I can think of few theatrical performances I have experienced that can rival it...If there is any justice in this world, 'Head of Passes' will be moving uptown following the same path taken by 'Hamilton' and 'Eclipsed' when they made the move to Broadway." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Absorbing, Great acting, Riveting, Slow, Great staging

See it if you want to see Phylicia Rashad in her second performance of a lifetime (1st, Gem of the Ocean) with a great ensemble & an unbelievable set

Don't see it if You want light & fluffy fare

Dark, Confusing, Disappointing, Slow, Great staging

See it if you enjoy dark spiraling pieces, sprinkled with introspection

Don't see it if you prefer cathartic uplifting theater, that wrestles with dark thoughts in humorous ways.

Enchanting, Exquisite, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if you're looking for a masterpiece performance from Phyllicia Rashad, spectacular design, and deeply-felt, elegant writing

Don't see it if you prefer your family dramas neat and tidy

Funny, Must see, Riveting, Beautiful staging, Terrific performances

See it if You've heard how amazing Phylicia Rashad is because it's all true. Kyle Beltran turns it out again. Also the set is not to be missed.

Don't see it if You're not a fan of plays about race or parables (i.e. a modern take on the story of Job). Otherwise don't miss out.

Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating, Overrated, Great staging

See it if you like shouty, fast, mostly incomprehensible dialogue. Huge and very improbable "twists" that make no sense. Melodrama.

Don't see it if You don't want to sit through a 25 minute long monologue at the end of a 2 hour show that consists of crying and shouting.

Confusing, Disappointing, Cliched, Slow

See it if you want to hear people shouting nonsensically about nothing & if you enjoy shows that lack a decent plot/character development

Don't see it if you dislike 25-minute monologues, if you dislike racist stereotypes, or if you want a show of substance.

Edgy, Great acting, Entertaining

See it if See sterling performances by many actors. Especially Phylicia Rashad and Alana Arenas.

Don't see it if The plot is important to you.

Ambitious, Intense, Disappointing, Slow, Great performance by phylicia rashad

See it if you want to see Phylicia Rashad give the performance of her career in a second-rate play.

Don't see it if you do not like long and drawn out monologues.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Riveting

See it if A bravura performance by Phyllicia Rashad. Truly one for the ages.

Don't see it if Almost sadistic in its sadness. The heavy Southern accents are sometimes difficult to understand.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Great staging

See it if You like real life family situation dramas that are exquisitely well-written and perfectly cast.

Don't see it if You have no feelings for others and live in a box or cave.

Great acting, Intelligent, Profound, Slow

See it if you want to see a riveting star turn by an actress at the top of her game.

Don't see it if talky plays with little action don't do it for you.

Original, Clever, Intense, Slow, Great staging

See it if You like Phylicia Rashad and want to see her phenomenal skills in action. And you enjoy incredibly well done staging.

Don't see it if You aren't a fan of long winded monologues about god. The second act contains a 20min monologue that, while excellently executed, is tiring.

Great acting, Profound, Great staging, Slightly disappointing, Poetic

See it if you love airing-of-family-laundry dramas in the vein of August Osage; you want to see the sheer technicality & power in Ms. Rashad's acting.

Don't see it if you dislike plays about faith or dysfunctional families. Or if you are looking for a real punch in the gut--the script is oddly distancing.

Absorbing, Dizzying, Great acting, Intense, Great staging

See it if you want to see a truly astonishing piece of acting. Phylicia Rashad is an emotional tornado tearing up the stage of the Public

Don't see it if you don't like serious drama; this is an emotional play about faith, loss and love of family

Great acting, Must see, Quirky, Resonant, Great staging

See it if Go! It creaks, moans, is heavy & brilliant. Phylicia R is magnificent. Cast is great, shout-out to Alana A. Set is alive! Directionsogood.

Don't see it if 'uneven' is a dirty word: if you can absorb whisky, God, starlight mints, Shakespeare, cake, friends, doubt without exploding, you're good

Ambitious, Great acting, Overwrought, Disconnected

See it if want to see a great actress let loose.

Don't see it if you have had your fill of dysfunctional family dramas.

Ambitious, Great acting, Excruciating, Great staging

See it if want to see a terrific performance by Phylicia Rashad..

Don't see it if you enjoy a cohesive two act play. Act 2 was weak , unbelievable and despite a strong performance a 30+ min monologue with God? Really?

Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Riveting, Great staging

See it if You admire incredible acting. Phylicia Rashad delivers a chilling monologue that is awe-inspiring.

Don't see it if There is no reason not to see it.

Absorbing, Great acting, Must see, Profound, Great writing

See it if To watch Ms. Rashad tear the roof off. Tarrell Alvin McCraney's writing. Wonderful, balanced ensemble. It's going to rip out your heart.

Don't see it if You don't tolerate religious characters. You don't want something so intense. But that'd be a shame.

Ambitious, Confusing, Great staging

See it if you want to see a muddled examination of what happens to a person when their faith is tested.

Don't see it if you need to see a show that answers questions instead of asks them.

Intense, Indulgent, Excruciating, Overrated, Pretentious

See it if If you enjoy shows with a huge dependence on the spiritual. If you want to see Phylicia Rashad in a tour de force performance. A perfect set

Don't see it if You can't tolerate constant screeching voices trying to outdo each other so very little is understandable. Ranting, wailing is not for you.

Dramatic, Painful, Kyle beltran, Wonderful ensemble cast

See it if The stage set is amazing. The cast interaction was tight and authentic. Painful story of a modern day, female, Job.

Don't see it if Not a light show. Draws on family secrets, race, belief in God.


See it if You believe that Tarell Alvin McCraney is the great playwright many institutions want him to be, or hope Phylicia Rashad can make it work.

Don't see it if Potential alone isn't enough for you and/or you don't want to saddle Rashad with trying to save this unsustainable failure of playwriting.

Ambitious, Dizzying, Intense, Resonant, Overrated

See it if You love Phylicia Rashad and want to see her at her finest.

Don't see it if You dislike heavy dramas and mind very long monologues.

Great acting, Riveting, Confusing, Powerful, Great staging

See it if you want to see Phylicia Rashad in powerful, career-defining performance. Her work here is well worth the price of admission.

Don't see it if long monologues and stylized language aren't your thing. The show sometimes gets lost in itself, but the performances are fantastic.

Cast & Creatives (16)