‘Passport’ Review: A Master of Comedy in a Migrant Camp

Realism is clearly not the goal here: Michalik is an entertainer who loves a dramatic twist, and “Passport” showcases his ability to keep a narrative moving. Basic set elements are wheeled or carried on and off at breakneck speed, and video projections help situate the characters, who waltz through a series of locations: Issa, Arun and a third character, a Syrian migrant named Ali, are taken by bus to a French village they know nothing about, then travel to Paris to look for illicit work.

For some viewers, Issa’s fairly rosy path may grate, in light of migrants’ real-life difficulties. He gets refugee status in France after parroting an invented back story; he also turns out to be a gifted cook, and wines and dines a banker who agrees on the spot to bankroll the opening of a restaurant.

Yet in France, where politically sensitive topics are typically left to highbrow, publicly funded playhouses and the commercial sector focuses on lighter fare, “Passport” offers an intriguing middle way. And Michalik’s reach is considerable: His play “Edmond” celebrated 1,500 performances in the fall.

For “Passport” to address the touchy issue of racism in French society head-on is no small matter. Onstage, Lucas’s adoptive white father is a xenophobic nightmare at a family dinner, a scene that Michalik makes both funny and familiar. The diverse characters offer a range of perspectives on multiculturalism: As Lucas, who is reluctant to talk about race, Christopher Bayemi cuts a strikingly conflicted figure, while Ysmahane Yaqini brings lighthearted energy to the role of Yasmine, Issa’s love interest, a French-born librarian of North African descent.

Michalik favors directness over subtlety, so there are awkward lines here and there. Yet “Passport” remains a brave endeavor, crafted with heart. Eight years after the Calais Jungle was officially demolished, Michalik has now sneaked it into popular theater. Time will tell if it has staying box-office power.


Through June 30 at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, in Paris, France; theatredelarenaissance.com.

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