Of all the inescapable truths that James Ijames bombards his audience with in Kill Move Paradise, the biggest one is found in the mirror he holds up to the audience. There are few things more dismaying, or more apt to generate a knee-jerk, fear-based, totally ignorant defensiveness, than being forced to confront the worst parts of yourself. And that’s precisely what Kill Move Paradise does, at least for the melanin-redacted people in the audience. With surgical precision, Ijames lays down the facts of living in a country founded by and—for most of its 200+ year history—run by white supremacists. Ijames knows that if you are white, you are part of the problem, so long as the system designed to favor white people remains intact. If you find yourself wanting to look away or giggling nervously, that says more about you than anything else.
Directed by Wardell Julius Clark with brutal, beautiful, haunting choreography by Breon Arzell, Kill Move Paradise stands at the unicorn-rare intersection of mesmerizing and indispensable. The skate park-like set (by Ryan Emens) is a netherworld limbo for three Black men and a Black child who have been murdered by cops. The actors don’t enter so much as they are hurled like crash test dummies across the half-pipe, down into an assaultive purgatory of buzzing lights and throbbing noises.
Isa (Kai A. Ealy) has been there the longest. It falls to him to help newcomers, including Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre), Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner), and 12-year-old Tiny (Trent Davis), get oriented. The others, for example, are initially confused by the endless spew of sheets from a downstage dot matrix printer. It’s a list of names that Isa reads aloud—hundreds of them, all Black people killed by law enforcement. In Isa’s utterance, the names become an indictment of history and a demand for reckoning. “Jesus,” says Grif in the shattered silence that follows. “They got his ass, too,” Isa responds.
Throughout, the actors move purposefully through the audience, demanding prolonged eye contact, puzzling over these creatures who “like to watch.” Grif: “They have a name?” Isa: “America.”
Intimacy and violence director Rachel Flesher makes the violence visited on these young men so wincingly realistic, it’s tempting to avert your eyes. Which, again, points to the problems Kill Move Paradise so vividly underscores. v