Black Lives Matter!

‘Kill Move Paradise’

Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre, from left), Isa (Kai A. Ealy) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) in TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Kill Move Paradise.” ( (Lara Goetsch photo)
Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre, from left), Isa (Kai A. Ealy) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) in TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Kill Move Paradise.” ( (Lara Goetsch photo)

4 stars

TimeLine Theatre is often the place in Chicago where we revisit those special individuals, real people or fictional representations, who’ve left a mark in history.

At times, these wonderful plays and musicals remind us of events from the past, taking a close look at another time and place. But once in a while this treasure of a theatre forces audiences to examine events from the present, and we are presented with history—good or bad—in the making.

Such is the case with James Ijames’ mesmerizing, almost surreal and passionately presented, drama. If ever there was a play that makes theatergoers fully understand and realize that” Black Lives Matter” it’s this riveting piece of theatre.

Ijames’ drama, which offers several unexpected moments of dark humor, isn’t really plot-driven. If anything, Ijames’ play uses fictional characters, albeit sketchily drawn, to hammer home his theme: the sickening tragedy of an ever-growing list of slain American black men and women whose lives have been needlessly lost at an alarming rate each day.

In TimeLine’s production, the list is continually being updated on an onstage laser printer which, at one point, one of the characters reads from with poignance.

Often young, these victims of racial injustice and violence are real people, not just impersonal statistics. Usually unarmed and defenseless, these men and women had all their hopes and dreams erased forever.

In his drama, Ijames presents the stark reality that every young African-American faces on a daily basis. The playwright’s created four representative African-American men of varying ages, each of whom horrifically discovers that he’s dead.

Kai A Ealy in Kill Move Paradise. ( (Lara Goetsch photo)
Kai A Ealy in Kill Move Paradise. ( (Lara Goetsch photo)

They’ve had their lives needlessly snuffed out, simply because they were going about their business. Perhaps you can say these men were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that cliché begs the question: where and when IS the right place and time?

The latest arrivals to this Purgatory region of the Cosmos are all understandably angry and baffled by where they are and how they got there. Isa, played with authority and gravitas by Kai A. Ealy, is the oldest and wisest among the new residents. He’s also the first to arrive and, as such, makes many discoveries he’ll share with the others.

He tumbles down a steep slope to the stage, making several unsuccessful attempts to return from whence he came. Isa’s understandably disoriented but cautiously observant. He takes in the audience, noting that they’re mainly Caucasian, well-dressed and have probably paid a lot of money to simply watch.

The next arrival is Grif played with appropriate fury and resentment by Cage Sebastian Pierre. Pierre bursts through the floor of the Ryan Emens’ stunning, measureless, cosmic stage setting. He’s obviously dazed and confused, so he reluctantly bonds with Isa, the seeming expert on where they are and, in a way, what to expect from now on. Together the two men try to make sense of the present.

Then, a hidden sliding barn door opens and Daz appears out of nowhere. Really angry and disoriented, this enterprising young man reports that there’s a storehouse of memorabilia waiting to be pillaged, and from which Daz steals a lawn chair. He’s portrayed with humor by Charles Andrew Gardner.

The youngest and last to arrive in this Bardo is Tiny. He’s splendidly played by the charismatic teen actor, Trent Davis (and, at some performances, by Donovan Session). Davis is the heart of this play. Truly confused by what’s happened, he tries to respect his mother’s advice not talk to strangers. But, eventually, the boy realizes that these other men are simply offering empathy, kindness and a means of survival.

Tiny (Trent Davis, front). Back are Isa Kai A. Ealy, Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) in “Kill Move Paradise.” (Lara Goetsch photo)
Tiny (Trent Davis, front). Back are Isa Kai A. Ealy, Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) in “Kill Move Paradise.” (Lara Goetsch photo)

It’s through Isa, Grif and Daz that Tiny will begin to comprehend the status quo. He arrives with a large, colorful squirt gun in hand. Eventually he comes to know that, because he was simply, innocently playing with a toy, he was mercilessly killed. The men try to comfort Tiny by playing a game of Cowboys and Aliens with him but they end up flashing back to the tragic moments that brought each of them to this Purgatory.

Wardell Julius Clark’s stunning production is directed with passion and pathos. Often, unexpectedly, the play breaks into musical and choreographed movement directed by Breon Arzell with sound design and original compositions by Jeffrey Levin.

Clark’s production also embraces silence in a way not experienced in many other playwright’s wor, except maybe Pinter. These long, quiet beats force theatergoers to stop and  observe the characters and truly empathize with them.

But the most gut-wrenching scene comes when Isa is forced by the other men to read from the list of names, a document that keeps pumping out from the printer. It’s in this unending recital that Ijames’ truly hits home hard and breaks every theatergoer’s heart. This is a stunning production that will be remembered for years to come. It’s a play that absolutely must be seen.

DETAILS:  “Kill Move Paradis” is at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington
Ave., Chicago, through April 5, 2020. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 281-8463. x 6 or visit TimeLineTheatre.

Colin Douglas

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


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