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Playwright James Ijames examines Black reality through journey to the afterlife

Playwright James Ijames (Photo courtesy of Beowulf Sheehan)

Acclaimed Philadelphia-based playwright James Ijames is readying himself for the Chicago premiere of his play Kill Move Paradise at the TimeLine Theatre. Directed by Wardell Julius Clark, the cast is set in purgatory, where four young Black men who have been killed are waiting to learn where their souls will spend the afterlife. Besides TimeLine’s production, later this spring Ijames’ play The Most Spectacularly Lamentable Trial of Miz Martha Washington will be staged at Steppenwolf Theatre in addition to Ijames’ play WHITE, which will be produced by Definition Theatre in Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre.

Rolling out spoke with Ijames to learn more.

This is the Chicago premiere of Kill Move Paradise. How did that come together?

TimeLine Theatre’s director Wardell Julius Clark is a genius, and I believe he will give the play a truly Chicago feeling and flavor. Fun fact: the first public reading of this play was held at Victory Gardens. Chicago was the first audience to hear the play. Chicago actors and Marti Lyons’ direction had a huge impact on the play.

What are you attempting to convey with Kill Move Paradise?

I want the audience to see these men as complex and by extension all Black people as complex. I use stereotypes in the play and then quickly dismantle them. I show people what they want to see, and then I pull it apart. I distort it. By the end of the play, I want there to be a sense of hopefulness and in that hopefulness an understanding of the sheer volume of work we have left to do as a culture.

Your other works of art seem to provide the community with an opportunity to have conversations about some very uncomfortable subject matter. Is that intentional?

Yes. I think about the many relationships a piece of art has with the people consuming it. There is a vertical relationship; that’s me as an individual looking at the art and having a singular experience that is for me only. That’s really valuable. Then there is the horizontal relationship; that’s when my vertical relationship comes into proximity to others’ vertical relationships. So then we have a dialogue happening in the audience, whether it’s heard or just felt, that complicates and deepens what we are seeing on stage. It forges a community.

Kill Move Paradise runs now through April 15, 2020, at the TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave. Chicago. To learn more, visit