KILL MOVE PARADISE impresses before it begins. Matt Saunders’s Kubrickesque all-white set pin-pointing into an almost unscalable ramp-wall must be one of the finest the city’s seen. Its stark color emphasizes the black bodies of the characters who populate James Ijames’s purgatory. There’s no fourth wall here: the audience is complicit in the consideration of POC men who lost their lives to judicial murder. (“Who are they?” says one character, looking into the audience. “They paid.”… “They just gonna sit there?” “Sometimes they sleep.”… “Who are they?” “America.”)
Arriving one by one in the purgatory, the characters (better defined by Blanka Zizka’s individually attentive physical direction than Ijames’s script) at first deal with their newfound afterlife through conventionally dramatic shit-shooting. They’re drawn from real-life killings: Grif (Anthony Martinez Briggs) is inspired by Philando Castile; Daz (Brandon Pierce) by Eric Garner. When a boy inspired by 12-year-old Tamir Rice arrives (as Tiny, Avery Hannon is a child actor asked to carry too heavy a burden for this show), dialog is insufficient. How can we make sense of this?
Watching James Ijames’s KILL MOVE PARADISE with my drama critic hat on I found it boring, unsatisfying. But this script is less an attempt at conventional theater than at catharsis, most movingly when Lindsay Smiling reads a long long long list of names of victims of white fear. We join Ijames on his struggle to make sense of the killings, to make sense of the fear which would lead someone to shoot a kid with a water pistol. He uses audience interaction, dance, humor, joy, fear, a TV spoof, religious epiphany. The white set floods with blood-red light. He’s building a ritual rather than a drama. Watching KILL MOVE PARADISE as such it’s confusing, frustrating, exhilarating, heart-breaking, true.
[Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street] September 4-23, 2018; wilmatheater.org/production/kill-move-paradise