I absolutely love seeing new plays. There is an excitement and an energy that is unique to a professional opening. Kill Move Paradise is one of the most wonderful plays I have had the privilege to view. Written by Philadelphia theater favorite, James Ijames, it is the story of four African American males who find themselves in a way station after death. The playwright describes it as a “bardo (in Tibetan Buddhism, a transitional or liminal space between death and rebirth.” They enter the space one at a time and go through a period of wonderment and a recognition of the audience as a part of their experience. The inclined and initially all white set was superbly designed by Matt Saunders. It is both stark and purposeful for the actors. It is a perfect canvas for Thom Weaver’s skillfully complementary lighting.
First to arrive on stage in this Godot-like environment is Isa, a deep, sensitive poet played with great depth by Lindsay Smiling. He established the pattern that each character would adapt to relate to an acknowledged audience. He is joined next by Grif, a man of the streets played with incredible energy by Anthony Martinez-Briggs. The third visitor is a gamer, Daz played with both anger and whit by Brandon Pierce. Our final member is a young boy, Tiny who enters with a toy gun and many made up games. Tiny is confused, angry and fearful, all emotions handled with professional skill by Avery Hannon.
The captain of this ship is Wilma’s theatrical treasure, Blanka Zizka. Director Zizka takes this tabula rasa and incredibly talented performers and brings life to playwright Ijames thoughtful and profound play. They combine “to question the contemporary myth that ‘all lives matter’.” It forces to see these characters who have died violently as human beings devoid of color. It challenges the audience, who are identified as “America,” to really see each one as a unique individual. They challenge stereotypes as they try to comfort each other. Each one has his moment of realization which appears to be a requirement for the each to move on. Ijames never lets us know the specifics details of the deaths, nor their ultimate destination. This allows us to focus on what is taking place on stage. We are limited to the words spoken by each of the characters to watch their transcendence initiated by the healing of each other.
Although the subject matter is serious, the play has many, many great comic moments. Each character has his moment to shine and to make us laugh or smile. It is a tribute to the playwright, director and actors that there are so many laughs to temper this very serious issue. Kill Move Paradise plays until September 23rd. Get in on the ground floor of a wonderful new play. For tickets call 215.546.7824 or go online at WilmaTheater.org.