“Kill Move Paradise” at Shotgun Players
There is a group of theaters in Berkeley that produce one excellent play after another. The Berkeley Repertory and Aurora Theaters are neighbors in downtown. Shotgun Players across from the Ashby Bart Station is a third fine theater and their current production “Kill Move Paradise” is another wonderful show.
James Ljames’s “Kill Move Paradise” received excellent reviews when it played off-Broadway. Ben Brantley praised it highly in the “New York Times” and it won a 2018 Kesselring Prize. The show is relevant, moving and very creative in telling the story of police and society’s unfair impression and reaction to black men.
As in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” or Jean Paul Sartre’s “Huis Clos”, we are in a nameless place, a holding spot. In “Kill Move Paradise” set designer Celeste Martore creates a a stark white room marvelously transformed into a kind of play pen with unscalable walls and a slide down into it. The four black men, one of them no older than the high school freshman Tiny (Dwayne Clay), have landed, literally landed so as they slide or fall into the space. They have been killed and are here on their way to the next place — be it paradise or not.
The play starts with Isa (Edward Ewell) telling his story and then the others enter one by one. Grif (Lenard Jackson) is next and he is a well dressed, bow tied with matching scarf man who also wonders “Where am I” ? He addresses the audience that has been illuminated by green lights in a Brechtian manner. Bertolt Brecht in his plays often highlighted the audience to make it uncomfortable and force it to admit that, as part of society, they are guilty in the plight of the characters on stage. Others ask, “Do I scare you”’ or “Am I dead”? They question the stereotype of the “Vicious Black Brute” that the audience assigns them. Stephanie Anne Johnson’s excellent lighting is important to this production.
It opens with a bolt of lightning on a blue background designed by sound expert Elton Bradman and video by Theodor J.H. Hulsker. When things have calmed down, a white paper airplane floats into the strange room and Isa reads it. In the corner of the room is a a typewriter that prints out a long list of names of the people killed by police or white civilians. At times Isa reads the names on the list coming out on the long piece of paper and some of the hundreds of victims are more well-known than others such as Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.
The four on stage ask the audience if it is afraid of them. They jokingly say “Boo.” They sing and dance to playful choreography by director Darryl V. Jones and Laura E. Ellis that incorporates old clichés and bits from songs and mock stage acts such “Being Black Ain’t What it Used to Be”. They produce a clever short play-within-a-play where they enact Tiny’s story with his family and his eventual death. Tiny cooks up a game of Cowboys and Indians while three of them portray scary aliens à la sci-fi. Then they start to bicker, especially the snappy dresser Daz (Tre’Vonne Bell) who has been the most hostile from the beginning. United the three are aghast that a boy as young as Tiny has been killed by the police.
In what could be a boring rehash of current affairs concerning “Black Lives Matter,” “Kill Move Paradise” is a play in the tradition of theater of the absurd that discusses the current problems of black men in society. Directed by a talented Darryl V. Jones, Ljames’ one-act play is current, moving and engaging. Shotgun partners with the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre on this production.
“Kill Move Paradise” runs through August 4, 2019. Tickets 510 841 6500 or shotgunplayers.org.