Rep Stage under the Producing Artistic Director, Joseph W. Ritsch, is presently performing “Kill Move Paradise” by James Ijames and directed by Danielle A. Drakes. The play will be performed at the Studio Theatre, Horwitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College in Columbia, MD until March 8, 2020.
Briefly, the play is about African-American males who meet with untimely deaths. Four of them are in what some would call “limbo” waiting to get into “paradise.” One by one they either come down a huge slide that dominates the stage, climb out of a box or make a thunderous arrival. It takes each one a bit of time to realize they are dead and victims of a death by violence. It is in a way much like, “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett or “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre. (It also has a direct correlation to anti-lynching dramas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.) However, unlike some of its predecessors “Kill Move Paradise” characters are not ignorant of their fate or deserving of their present state of limbo/purgatory. To tell you exactly what happens in this intense production would soften its effect.
However, there are certain themes that are apparent. Black men and boys are being killed without real cause at an alarming rate. Ijames has the characters interface with the audience who just watch. He is making a clear statement that the predominately white audience may be horrified but often sit back and do not act.
What you take from the drama which is surrealistic is subjective. It uses the giant slide as a way to get in but an impediment to getting out and an old-fashioned fax machine that keeps spitting out new names of African-Americans who have met an untimely fate. African-Americans who see the play will, most likely, have a different interpretation than Latin-Americans or Irish-Americans. Persons in the audience who are police or have family members in the police force may have their views altered by that as well. The play makes no effort to obscure the playwright’s point of view.
The play’s climax comes when Tiny (Tendo Nsubuga), an adolescent, joins the group. The men are taken aback by his presence, but it is Tiny who crystalizes Ijames’ message that these killings are never justifiable, or maybe, that’s my own interpretation.
‘Kill Move Paradise’ is a play that should not be missed. It will leave you most affected.
The four actors are extremely gifted and talented. Dylan J. Fleming plays Isa who starts the show coming down the slide and is on stage quite a bit with very little dialogue. Fleming not only keeps our attention but makes Isa a very sympathetic character.
Jonathan Del Palmer joins him as Grif who also does not immediately realize where he is and that there is no way out. Del Palmer helps us to sense Grif’s puzzlement and frustration.
Into this group comes Daz played by Christian R. Gibbs. Daz is the tougher of the three. Gibbs makes us think that Daz is just a thug, but we later realize out he is just a regular guy trying to support himself as best he can. It is pointed out that the audience brings a misconception that black men should be feared. One of the characters states he was eight years old when he realized he was scary. As an audience, we come to realize that we make judgments about African-Americans based on their clothing and personal appearance.
The three often confront the audience. There are some light moments as Daz describes all the black “memorabilia” he sees in the tunnel that brought him to this spot. All three agonize both mentally and physically as a list of dead African-Americans, some very recognizable, is read aloud while being projected on the slide.
Nsubuga deftly plays the youngster, Tiny. Tiny is based on the very real shooting of Tamir Rice by police as he played in a park in Cleveland with a toy gun. He was only twelve years old. Nsubuga is obviously older than that, but he captures the youthful personality and naivete of this much younger character.
Drakes’s direction will leave you breathless. It is fast-moving and hard-hitting. She seems to have used every inch of her actors’ physical and mental capability to bring the message home to the audience.
The choreography by Dane Figueroa Edidi uses movement to convey the meaning of the playwright and also to help brighten the play at some of its gloomier moments. Jenny Male’s Fight Direction also is clever and helps deliver the emotions of the characters.
Debra Kim Sivigny’s Scenic Design and Harold F. Burgess II’s Lighting Design are most impressive. As stated, the stage is dominated by a huge slide. There are pillars on each side and a huge box Stage Right. Projections on the slide and the pillars are the only scenic changes. There are also lightning bolts and crashes of thunder (Sound Design by Kevin L Alexander), and of course, the list of individuals projected on the slide while names are being read.
For me, again this is subjective, the play lets us know these men and boys will not be punished in the afterlife. One of the biggest points of the play is the mark their deaths leave on their families, friends and even their communities.
The playwright states that he hopes the play becomes obsolete one day and that he has hope that America will change. One hopes his optimism becomes a reality.
“Kill Move Paradise” is a play that should not be missed. It will leave you most affected. Rep Stage continues to produce fine new scripts from talented new playwrights.
Running Time: One hour and 10 minutes. No Intermission.
Advisory: “Kill Move Paradise” is recommended for mature audiences only due to language and violence.
“Kill Move Paradise” plays at Rep Stage through March 8, 2020, in the Studio Theatre of the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College — 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 518-1500, or purchase them online.
To find out more about the Director, Danielle A. Drakes, see Maryland Theatre Guide’s interview with her from February 2019.