Theater Review: KILL MOVE PARADISE (TimeLine)

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by Lawrence Bommer on February 20, 2020

in Theater-Chicago


The painful premise behind Kill Move Paradise is that there’s no justice on this side of the grave. So author James Ijames goes to the other side. He creates a kind of Elysian Fields for four young black men cut down wrongly and early. It’s up to this 2017 valedictory, inspired by the 2015 slaughter of nine black parishioners in a Charleston church, to exorcise an earthly evil, honor their unfinished business, and point out our own.

A compelling Chicago premiere by TimeLine Theatre, Wardell Julius Clark’s 90-minute staging and a quartet of kinetic performances bring Ijames’ afterlife to an angry apotheosis. With the Baird Hall auditorium skewered into an uncharacteristic three-quarter thrust staging, Ryan Emens’ setting is a marbleized outcrop beneath a temple frieze. It’s flanked by a door beyond which are icons of African American history and lore. As a helicopter swirls a cloud of haze, the four individuals drop and roll as they’re delivered to this purgatory.

In feeling more than function, it’s a kind of combination of the Second Empire-style drawing/waiting room in Sartre’s No Exit and the barren landscape of Waiting for Godot.

The non-survivors are gay Isa (Kai A. Ealy), his name signaling a sacred one; Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner), dancing beyond death; and Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre), a former valedictorian who’s had to fend for himself. The last, and most wrenching, arrival is Tiny (Trent Davis), a kid with a water gun who can’t fathom how what little he had expected turned so bad. (He’s the only one who offers any developed description of his demise.)

Adjusting to a limbo they compare to the Twilight Zone (it also gives a new meaning to “beyond the pale”), the four try to make sense of this surreal holding pen surrounded by mute spectators (us.) Trying to escape, they seek to scramble up the mountain. Instead they pass the time erupting in roaring uninhibited rap rants and in stomping dances that range from minstrel-show mockery to industrial funk.

We hear exchanges where they wonder whether they’re victims, martyrs or sacrifices. With Tiny, they play a game of fighting aliens that’s not so removed from their lost reality. More than the gallows humor here, the male bonding feels as moral as therapeutic, a support group that may come too late but matters like black lives.

Their acting-out inevitably indicts the country that sent them here. There’s no closure where there was no compassion, just retro rage. Ijames pointedly satirizes the protocol of unthreatening and inoffensive behavior that supposedly wards off police bullets. He throws in a contrived sit-com with canned laughter that savages the excuses for cops turned killers.

In a non-negotiably devastating moment, the men mourn beyond themselves: Grif reads a long computerized list of the never-ending names of other casualties of hate crimes, official and civilian: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald and many more. The names trigger shocks of recognition from Ijames’ hero ghosts, hopefully from the audience as well.

These four performances create a golden gamut. They nail every side of their situation, innocence as much as indignation, the full complex loss that was their lives.

As with Goodman Theatre’s current graveyard shift (which poeticizes the plight of Sandra Bland), Kill Move Paradise (the title explaining their changes) can lose the specifics of its story in its style. Without a clear arc of passage, the action sometimes lurches scatter-shot as the author evens scores and subverts the lies that enable executions.

Because they found no shelter from their storm, there is no resolution for this doomed quartet. (That would be the last lie.) The living are a different matter. It’s beyond sad that in 2020, over a half-century since Dr. King paid for demanding equality, that protests like Ijames’ remain essential. How many wake-up calls can a society ignore before they’re officially heart- as well as brain-dead? But, redemptively enough, because the theater continues its work to wake, Kill Move Paradise devotes its powers to the process of elimination.

photos by Lara Goetsch

Kill Move Paradise
TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Wed & Thurs at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8;
Sun at 2; Tues at 7:30 (check for schedule variations)
ends on April 5, 2020
for tickets, 773.281.8463 x 6 or TimeLine

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nikki Smith February 21, 2020 at 11:30 am

Intelligent review of intelligent theater. Who could ask for anything more?


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