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Matters of life and death are a telling wake-up call in Timeline Theatre’s ‘Kill Move Paradise’

One part existential musing, one part requiem for black lives, one part biting satirical social commentary, this is a unique, hilarious, energetic and unpredictable ride. 

Torn from the world they know without warning, Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre, from left), Isa (Kai A. Ealy) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) find themselves stuck in a cosmic waiting room in TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Kill Move Paradise.”
Torn from the world without warning, Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre, from left), Isa (Kai A. Ealy) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) find themselves stuck in cosmic limbo in TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Kill Move Paradise.”
Lara Goetsch

Many works onstage claim to “take risks,” yet most stay within fairly well-established boundaries of storytelling. “Kill Move Paradise” at Timeline Theatre is one of the few plays to live up to that ambitious claim.

One part existential musing, one part requiem for black lives, one part biting satirical social commentary, this is a unique, hilarious, energetic and unpredictable ride.

The script by James Ijames dwells in a shadowy purgatory, a way station for the recently deceased. As victims of violence land in the waiting room of the afterlife, they struggle to regain a normal sense of consciousness and try to make sense of their new reality.

As their past and present become more clear, they reflect on the philosophical nature of their existence as black men in America. and unpleasant universal truths bubble to the surface, chiefly the dynamic of performative blackness, with whiteness as the audience as a necessary yet painful tool of survival.

The play breaks traditional narrative structure and combines dance and poetic elements for a singularly unpredictable experience.

The opening scene is absolutely explosive and presented devoid of context. Kai A. Ealy plays Isa, (Arabic for Jesus) a lost soul riding a seemingly nonsensical wave of intense, ever-changing emotions and physicalities, building a mood of foreboding and abject terror.

In the hands of a lesser actor, this scene would have been painful for all the wrong reasons. Ealy navigates all of the beats, though, with a steely, grounded confidence that electrifies. One by one, lost souls arrive, and Isa becomes both shepherd and captive, tasked with making sense of that which is beyond his understanding.

Cage Sebastian Pierre is Grif, and Charles Andrew Gardner plays Daz. Each is an extraordinarily multitalented actor. Together, along with Ealy, they gel so well they seem to become one organism. That seems to be intentional as the thematic commentary through their existence as modern Fates speaks to the condition of black men being murdered in America.

Tiny (Trent Davis, front) contemplates what has happened to him as Isa (Kai A. Ealy, back from left), Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) experience their own transformation in TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Kill Move Paradise.”
Somewhere in the afterlife, Tiny (Trent Davis, front) contemplates what happened to him in life and death as Isa (Kai A. Ealy, back from left), Grif (Cage Sebastian Pierre) and Daz (Charles Andrew Gardner) undergo their own transformations in “Kill Move Paradise.”
Lara Goetsch

Yet to call this social commentary is far too simple to encapsulate the entirety of this play. As the narrative progresses, it rapidly descends into similar subversive territory as that of “The Shipment” at Red Tape Theater in 2018 (also directed by Wardell Julius Clark). But Kill Move Paradise” is exponentially more sophisticated.

If one created a genre for this play, it would be Dark Black Comedy — dark comedy filtered through the black experience. Combining and leveraging the tools of satire and minstrelsy, and the evolution of the shuck and jive, the story unpacks unpleasant truths around survival for black men in America and the booby prize of the allure of martyrdom. The men find themselves stuck on a merry-go-round of emotion, Ijames excavating a fresh hell where death does not bring an end to suffering but instead brings the opportunity to mourn our own passing in keening, wailing agony.

Outside looking in are we, the audience, and society. The actors do not let the audience forget there is an inherent unwholesomeness and sickness in our desire to indulge in schadenfreude. The struggle of black America is prime-time entertainment on stage and screen, and Kill Move Paradise” forces us to digest a lump of modern media education and unflinchingly confront this pathology. Those who are familiar with the documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on an unfinished novel by James Baldwin, will remember the cowboys-and-Indians metaphor deployed here to devastating effect.

Strong themes of Afrofuturism create a bridge and a bond, tying the current experience of black men and police violence to African Americans’ past — America’s past — of slavery, through Jim Crow, towards a yet unseen hopeful vision.

Science fiction, as a genre, historically has been an escape from the present to the furthest reaches of the imagination. A physical representation of that bright future is actor Trent Davis, who plays Tiny. Few young actors can display the gravitas that Davis does, and his presence elevates the message to one of acute urgency.

While occasionally too clever for its own good and a bit reference-heavy, Kill Move Paradise” is possibly the most outstanding and singularly risky play you will see this year — and I know that it is only February.

There are multiple layers of meaning, interrogating existence, empathy, innocence, violence and joy. You might want to see this twice to catch all of the details.

Kill Move Paradise” is a wild ride that is not for the faint of heart, yet what will hold your heart is the undercurrent of the strength of hope and brotherhood.

Sheri Flanders is a freelance writer.