By: James Ijames
At: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Tickets: 773-281-8463 or TimeLineTheatre.com; $42-$57. Runs through: April 5
There's a lot of rightful anger and anguish in Kill Move Paradise. It's playwright James Ijames' powerfully theatrical 2017 off-Broadway response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
TimeLine Theatre presents a jolting Chicago premiere of Kill Move Paradise, with director Wardell Julius Clark more than meeting the demands of Ijames' phantasmagorical script.
Kill Move Paradise is full of tonal shifts to serve as both an artistic memorial and a protest piece, at times feeling like a politically motivated Samuel Beckett piece. Clark and his cast thrillingly meet these challenges head-on.
For TimeLine's Kill Move Paradise, set designer Ryan Emans creates a dark, marbleized limbo framed by a classical pediment up top, a curved sliding back wall and a warehouse door to the left. An old dot-matrix printer to the right activates to herald a new arrival, which also spurs flashy and unnerving effects work by lighting designer Jason Lynch and sound designer/composer Jeffrey Levin.
The first to appear is the Isa ( Kai A. Ealy ), and he physically struggles to make sense of where he is and how he got here. Bearing hand wounds suggesting they were held aloft in a shielding "Don't Shoot!" manner, Isa eventually deduces that he's in a strange afterlife.
Isa is soon joined by Grif ( Cage Sebastian Pierre ), Daz ( Charles Andrew Gardner ), and most upsettingly Tiny ( a role played by Trent Davis with Donovan Session at select performances ). Each new arrival jests, questions and pleads with the others as they all take in the harrowing implications of what has just happened to each of them. Each figure hurls himself around the set, and they all struggle over what they should do next.
Director Clark and his amazing cast find playful ways to wring as much humor out of Kill Move Paradise as possible. And that's necessary because Ijames' script can be a gut-puncher as it pays homage to a long list of African Americans ( also memorialized in the lobby ) whose lives were brutally cut short.
The fourth wall between performers and spectators is also frequently broken down. Sometimes it's ironically funny about American representation. Other times the actors disquietingly scan the audience to see if they have the courage to meet their gaze when the question of bias and fear is brought up.
All of this makes Kill Move Paradise a strong theatrical piece that makes an audience think and question their assumptions and biases. While some may find this to be too hectoring, I instead found Kill Move Paradise to be a stirring lament for so many lost African-American lives.