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See 'Kill Move Paradise' from Pulitzer Prize winner at ASU theater

Playwright James Ijames ‘emphasizes the often-overlooked humanity of Black men’

Four young men, some sitting and some standing, in front of a stage-like backdrop.

From "Kill Move Paradise." Photo by Tim Trumble

March 31, 2023

For the final production of the season, the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University is presenting “Kill Move Paradise,” written by playwright James Ijames. Ijames won the 2022 Drama Pulitzer Prize for “Fat Ham,” which recently moved to Broadway after a sold-out run at the Public Theatre.

“Kill Move Paradise” tells the story of four Black men abruptly ripped out of their worlds and thrown into a peculiar waiting room. As they attempt to make sense of where they are and where they’re going, Isa, Daz, Grif and Tiny must confront the reality of their past and how they arrived in this place. The play begins March 31 and runs through April 8 at the Lyceum Theatre on the Tempe campus. 

In an interview with the Wilma Theatre, Ijames talked about how the play continues to be relevant. 

I always say that I hope this play becomes obsolete one day. That’s like a crazy thing for a playwright to say,” he said. “But I hope one day that people will say we don’t need to do this play anymore because we are different. We are better. And every time I think we have reached a point where maybe this play is obsolete, it’s suddenly not.”

Jonathan Matthews, a junior in the ASU theater program, plays the role of Grif. He said that developing this character required a lot of preparation and vulnerability.

“There’s a discovery of raw emotion that comes with a piece like this,” Matthews said. “A big piece of how I’ve been preparing is trying to get in touch with a character that’s been in limbo and drawing on my own experience as a Black man in society and the pressures that come with that.”

Ijames wrote “Kill Move Paradise” as a response to the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

“The result is a tribute to Black lives that creates a space to say the names of those killed by police brutality and systemic violence,” wrote dramaturges Crestcencia Ortiz-Barnett and Julio-César Sauceda, ASU graduate students who researched the background of the play and helped provide context for the actors and crew.

Rachel Finley, assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, is directing the show. She said the play is told through magical realism, rooted in real-world experiences and presented in a manner that is outside anybody’s real experience.

“It deals with a weighty topic, but there’s also joy in the play,” Finley said. “It showcases the joy and the beauty of our culture. It emphasizes the often-overlooked humanity of Black men.”

Matthews said he hopes audiences are touched by the reality and humanity of the play.

“The biggest thing I want people to take away is raising awareness about police brutality,” Matthews said. “A big focus is on humanizing these people, not only in the play but also the real names on the list.”

Tickets for the show must be purchased in advance through the Herberger Institute Box Office

Kill Move Paradise

7:30 p.m., March 31, April 1, 6–7

2 p.m. April 2, 8 

Lyceum Theatre, Tempe.

Tickets through the Herberger Institute Box Office

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