Earlier this week, Jeronimo Yanez joined the list of police officers who have been acquitted of charges linked to the shooting deaths of Black men. Yanez is now a free man, while Philando Castile is and the pursuit for justice is dead. In a country more interested in short-sighted ignorance over comprehensive explanation and dialogue, we fight for our humanity against the demonization of our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. All losing their life for simply being Black in America. Consequently, we pick up the shattered pieces of our human emotion and reassemble the portraits of the lives taken from us.
Philando Castile’s last words were: “I wasn’t reaching for it.” Mike Brown’s: “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.” Oscar Grant’s: “You shot me. You shot me!” Trayvon Martin’s: “What are you following me for?”
James Ijames’ daring Kill Move Paradise is now on stage at the National Black Theatre. Through an expressionistic interpretation on the value of life, Ijames demands reform in the way we remember those who have been slain at the hands of state sanctioned violence.
Power, poison, pain, and joy boomerang across the fun house mirrors of Maruti Evans’ set. The audience, although left off the program, is a characterization of America. We look each other eye to eye in a space which eerily calls to memory a one-way mirror interrogation room. However, it is not dark enough. There is no masking their pain, or our pain. There is both freedom and hopelessness as we contort with conviction under strobe lights, checked privilege, and emotional discomfort. So we look on, so we lean in, as 4 men, 4 Black men, query in heartbreaking harmony: where are we and how did we get here?
Isa (Ryan Swain), Grif (Donnell E. Smith), Daz (Clinton Lowe) and Tiny (Sidiki Fofana), give equally dynamic and affecting performances as part of the list, a “cohort,” which includes Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin. This list mirrors the circumstance of present day as it grows in length by the moment. As time passes and reality becomes more clear, we squirm as we sit with new questions rooted in the protocol for the perished: What is the rhythm of the first breath on the other side? What is the cadence of these first steps and who is there to hold our hand as we stumble on the terrain of the unknown?
Saheem Ali directs with sharp shears, perfectly inserting humanity into this cavity between heaven and hell. 4 men. 4 beautiful Black men become Heroes. Swain is eloquence. He is grace and the fluidity of our movement. Smith is the sunshine in the eye of a man that carries a dream and is equipped with the tools to carry it out. Lowe is equal parts heart and soul, a fierce protector, a friend. Fofana is the harrowing sound a needle makes when it hits the center of the vinyl, the record is Innocence and there’s no side B. Together, these men represent the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of those snatched from this earth before their time.
Time has a cruel way of repeating itself here. Kill Move Paradise is uncomfortable but it has to be. We sit and watch death repeat itself to the point of satire. In these moments, how can we not be provoked and challenged to rise out of own complacency? The beautiful thing about art is we have the power to use it to metabolize our fear, anger, and sorrow. Let this work be the reminder that we’re here to reclaim our stories. This is the Battlecry which sings we are our brother’s keeper. This is the ignition in the revolution of radical empathy.
Kill Move Paradise is the most urgent play you can see this season. Don’t miss your opportunity! Performances are Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 2 and 7:30; and Sundays at 4, thru June 25th.
The production team includes Maruti Evans (Set), Alan C. Edwards (Lighting), Ntokozo Fuzunina Kunene (Costumes), Palmer Hefferan (Sound), Darrell Moultrie (Movement), Darius Smith (Musical Director), and Christina Franklin (Production Stage Manager).
For more information and to purchase tickets visit nationalblacktheatre.org.