Review: Shotgun’s powerful ‘Kill Move Paradise’ is searing and unsettling

SJM-L-PARADISE-0725-03
“Isa” (Edward Ewell) reads a list of names, while “Grif” (Lenard Jackson) and “Daz “(Tre’Vonne Bell) react in the Shotgun Players’ production of “Kill Move Paradise” in Berkeley. (Above) Dwayne Clay as “Tiny.” (Robbie Sweeny photo)

Amadou Diallo. Malcolm Ferguson. Patrick Dorismond. Earl Murray. Ronald Beasley. Prince Jones. Timothy Thomas. Orlando Barlow. Ousmane Zongo. Alberta Spruill. Timothy Stansbury. James Brisette. Ronald Madison. Henry Glover. Sean Bell. DeAunta Terrel Farrow. Tarika Wilson. Oscar Grant. Shem Walker. Victor Steen. Kiwane Carrington. Aaron Campbell. Steven Eugene Washington. Aiyana Jones. Danroy Henry. Derrick Jones. Reginald Doucet. Raheim Brown. Kenneth Harding. Alonzo Ashley. Kenneth Chamberlain. Ramarley Graham. Trayvon Martin.

There is no easy way to watch Shotgun Players’ scintillating production of “Kill Move Paradise.” Each moment of pain is scaffolded on top of the one prior, and each moment is a confirmation of the truth that the characters are left with. All this happens as the audience sits as voyeurs, awash in a green light that rests upon us, yet the characters who enter this inescapable new reality cannot connect to us. We are left devoid of hope, only full of a pain and rage that comes with seeing tragedy after tragedy unfold.

The world of white that surrounds four young black men is all-encompassing. There are pipes, holes, covers and one by one, each man slides into this confounding room loaded with angst and agita, trying to process what is happening to them. Once inside, each tries desperately to process their new reality as the violent rumblings of what sounds like a toilet flush fills the ears.

But not everything on the stage is clearly white. In the center of the set are streaks of black and hints of red. Those streaks appear to be residue from the most unfruitful ritual that each of the men engage with.

Sgt. Manuel Loggins, Jr.. Raymond Allen. Dante Price. Nehemiah Dillard. Wendell Allen. Shereese Francis. Rekia Boyd. Kendrec McDade. Ervin Jefferson. Tamon Robinson. Shantel Davis. Chavis Carter. Reynaldo Cuevas. Timothy Russell. Malissa Williams. Kimani Gray. Deion Fludd. Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr.. Carlos Alcis. Jonathan Ferrell. Miriam Carey. Andy Lopez. Jordan Baker. McKenzie Cochran. Yvette Smith. Victor White III. Eric Garner.

The company’s production of James Ijames daring and Brechtian script, written with lush staccato strokes is full of power, loaded with verisimilitude. It is hopeful in moments, discouraging in others, but always spells out its clear-cut and critical issues with where we are in society. Directed with confident pathos and pacing from Darryl V. Jones, the play is laid bare on Celeste Martore’s compellingly simple yet complicated set.

We meet each of the four men as they adapt to new surroundings. There’s Daz (Tre-Vonne Bell), Isa (Eddie Ewell) and Grif (Lenard Jackson) who each violently enter one by one. They take turns trying to figure out who are the folks sitting in front of them. The paying voyeurs laugh, say hello and engage in various ways with the show. It’s powerful imagery, with the play often asking, how do we see black men? How do we engage our world with persons of color?

There is still one more young man that is to enter, and when he does, it is wholly painful. That pain is accentuated in not just his sweet face, but in what he is holding. That one item, that one thing which carries not an ounce of intimidation whatsoever, slowly enters the space. The young man named Tiny (Dwayne Clay) is a powerful metaphor in a play loaded with them.

Tyree Woodson. John Crawford III. Michael Brown. Dante Parker. Ezell Ford. Kajieme Powell. LaQuan McDonald. Akai Gurley. Tamir Rice. Rumain Brisbon. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. David Felix. Freddie Gray. Kalief Browder. Quintonio LeGrier. Bettie Hones. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Paul O’Neal. Korryn Gaines. Jordan Edwards. Charlene Lyles. David Jones. Marc Brandon Davis. Aaron Bailey. DeJuan Guillory. Brian Easley. Antonio Garcia Jr.. Herbert Gilbert. Charles David Robinson. William Matthew Holmes. Anthony Antonio Ford.

The power of this play comes in many forms. There are the names of our black brothers and sisters whom we lost in so many heart-wrenching ways.

So. Many. Names.

Names that don’t seem to stop, in one of the most powerful scenes in the play. That piece of ancient technology which connects us to those names goes quickly from Commodore 64ish nostalgia to a sound that haunts as the proceedings move through space. It’s a sound you don’t want to hear, because when you do, it’s clear what it means.

The play speaks to many issues, all of them critical in their own way with the cast hitting each note with poignant fluidity. And so much of that fluidity in the acting and the script speaks to the responsibility we own in how we see black bodies. In one powerful moment when discussing this specific topic in front of an audience, the following exchange takes place when speaking about the people who are watching:

ISA. I don’t think we are allowed to make them uncomfortable?
TINY. Why not? I wanna feel uncomfortable. I wanna feel uneasy. It ain’t easy!

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016 during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality, it was not comfortable to mostly white football fans there to watch mostly black players destroy each other on the gridiron. That is why black athletes are told things like, “Shut up and dribble,” and “You get millions to play a game, leave the country if you don’t like it.” Fans pay plenty of money to not be uncomfortable.

Dewboy Lister. Calvin Toney. Lawrence Hawkins. Keita O’Neill. Jean Pedro Pierre. Dennis Plowden. Arthur McAfee Jr.. Ronnell Foster. Shermichael Ezeff. Cameron Hall. Stephon Clark. Danny Ray Thomas. Juan Markee Jones. Marcus-David L. Peters. Khalil Lawal. Maurice Granton Jr.. Robert Lawrence White. Terrell Eason. Harith “Snoop” Augustus. Diamond Stephens. Nia Wilson. Antwon Rose. Anthony Marcell Green. Rashaun Washington. Armando Frank. Daniel Hambrick. Jeffrey Dennis.

Protests and inconvenience are not easy, and in this play, four characters make this point repeatedly. Audiences don’t want the cold truth but would rather their black entertainers spend more time making us laugh and dance like “Rerun.” Jones taut direction accentuates these critical points the play succinctly broaches with both humor and pain, dynamics such as caricatures and minstrelsy in the way the black body politic is viewed. Further accentuating these ideas are wonderful video designs from Theodore J.H. Hulsker, a piercing soundscape by Elton Bradman and nuanced costumes from Courtney Flores.

The powerful script sharply points out the two worlds that exist – one where people of color teach their children to always make their hands visible and never be too threatening. And one where others can just live, have a barbecue and use a community pool without incident.

The play is a reminder of all we have lost, whether it be a person or an innocence. There are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts, uncles who met a violent end, with those left behind to find a peace that should never have to be found. And the number of tears that have been shed for each name could fill a river.

And. And. And. No more. Please.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

Shotgun Players presents “Kill Move Paradise”
Written by James Ijames
Directed by Darryl V. Jones
The Word: A powerful, experimental piece that deals frankly with how society deals with its fear of black bodies.
Stars: 5 out of 5
Through Aug. 11th
The Ashby Stage
1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, CA
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Tickets range from $25 – $42
For tickets, call (510) 841-6500 or visit shotgunplayers.org

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