Theater Review: PASSENGERS (Old Globe in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on July 4, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Die-hard fans of So You Think You Can Dance get to know their choreographers. For me, there was Sonya Tayeh (Moulin Rouge! The Musical) … and then there was everyone else. Her startling juxtapositions, demanding symmetry, and physical boundary pushing was unmatched by others. Until now. Now, there is Shana Carroll.  She’s a force to be reckoned with and you should take her up on that at the Old Globe by July 30.

To call Passengers an acrobatics show would fail to acknowledge how exquisite, creative, and expert all of the dance portions are.  But to call it a dance show would grossly underrepresent the level of intricate stunt work these nine performers pull off.

The cast of Passengers

While there is no plot, the theme of trains travels through the program. Unlike many Cirque du Soleil programs, where you need to read the program afterward to understand what the title might possibly have had to do with this show, the train setting is evident in much of the show, albeit not all.  Dance and other physical demonstrations often stem from settings like being confined to train compartments or staring out the window where the world appears to move faster than inside the train. In the end, though, these settings and situations are just launching pads for what Carroll’s vision puts her team through as writer, director, and choreographer.

Andrew Sumner and Beto Freitas, with the cast of Passengers

There are no characters, per se, but you’ll be nicknaming them in your head.  Your names may vary but mine included:

  • Hula-Hoop Lady (WAY more intense than you’re picturing from some variety show)
  • Flying-Gray-Tank-Top Guy (barely an exaggeration)
  • Has-Zero-Trust-Issues Man (could also be Tossed-Like-A-Bean-Bag Man)
  • Drops-Two-Stories Gal
  • Juggling Wonder
  • Time-Stopping Girl
  • Sneezing Lady
  • How-Can-His-Arms-NOT-Come-Out-Of-Their-Sockets-Doing-That? Man

Yes, these members of the world-renowned circus and arts collective The 7 Fingers (Dear San Francisco, Traces, Cuisine & Confessions) do have real names (Méliejade Bouchard, Eduardo de Azevedo Grillo, Andrew Sumner, Mandi Orozco, Marco Ingaramo, Kaisha D-W, Nella Niva, and Beto Freitas, respectively) but you’ll remember them better by what they evoked in you, through both their varied talents and collaborative achievements. Numerous times, I had to catch myself from calling out, “No!” because I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. In a near-the-end scene between Sumner and Freitas, Freitas does something so unexpected in the middle of a stunt that I exhaled so deeply, like a gut punch, that I had to focus to inhale enough again. Doubtless, they’ve rehearsed that moment to pieces, but for half a second, I thought we’d seen the last of Sumner … and then something else just amazing came of it.

Kaisha Desselines-Wright and Dina Sok

There are a handful of times where the performers speak. It’s just enough to give us some context to the next act without actually delving into plot. Video choices by Johnny Ranger add to the intensity. As Kaisha D-W works her way up and down two thick ribbons from the ceiling, there’s an enormous video of a woman (possibly from a 1950s movie) watching her fixedly from the back wall. As amazing as D-W’s every move is, it’s hard not to also watch the intensity on the video woman’s face, supposedly staring at her. Musical selections by Colin Gagné acutely accompany each act, heightening the amazement all the more.

One quirk of the show is that, at times, so many different things happen at once in the smorgasbord of movement that you absolutely will miss things. At one point, half the audience gasped and applauded something Nella Niva did on stage left, while I was watching something intricate between two others on stage right. As with passengers on a speeding train, you can’t take in the whole cornucopia at once, but what a delight to try.

American Conservatory Theater photos by Kevin Berne

Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
Tues & Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on July 30, 2023
for tickets, call 619.234-5623 or visit The Old Globe

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