Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Confused and disoriented Isa, Daz, Grif and Tiny find themselves trapped in an otherworldly white room. It does not take the strangers long to figure out what they have in common: they are men, they are black, and they are dead. Each a victim of the state-sanctioned violence that claims the lives of so many unarmed black men in the United States. Together they must recognize the truth about what has already happened and prepare themselves for what comes next. Kill Move Paradise contains elements of other surrealist dramas, purgatory plays, and political polemics, but James Ijames' highly original work is unlike anything you have seen before.
Under Blanka Zizka's innovative direction the basic narrative arc becomes a mere set-up for a series of powerful exchanges and bizarre interludes. With the musicality and excitement of a symphony, Brandon Pierce (Daz) delivers a monologue listing the things gathered just beyond the door of their uniquely black netherworld. The stage lights grow brighter and brighter and brighter with every name Lindsay Smiling (Isa) pronounces from his uncompromisingly long list of black men murdered by police. Anthony Martinez-Briggs (Grif) coyly assess the attractiveness of the audience, simultaneously inspiring raucous laughter and deep discomfort. Avery Hannon (Tiny) leads the entire ensemble in a cheerful doo-wop number about the tense encounters with law enforcement. For seventy fast-paced minutes the immensely talented ensemble takes us on a dizzying ride from joy, to disbelief, to anguish and back again.
Kill Move Paradise never feels preachy, but the play's message comes through loud and clear. Every death wrought by our racist system of law enforcement means the incomparable loss of a unique and valuable individual. By keeping the focus on these four souls, Zizka's production grapples honestly with a difficult issue while maintaining a tone that is frequently upbeat and even hopefula particularly impressive feat in these dark days. Even before I walked out of the theater I learned about 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean, shot dead by a uniformed officer while he sat watching television in his own apartment.
Kill Move Paradise, through September 23, 2018, at The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia PA. Part of the 2018 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Tickets are available at the Wilma's box office or by visiting wilmatheater.org or calling (215) 546-7824. For more information on the Fringe Festival, visit fringearts.com.