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Kill Move Paradise is Divine at South Camden Theater Company

by Aimee Ferenz



The South Camden Theatre Company was completely new to me as I attended Kill Move Paradise on their opening night performance at the Waterfront South Theater. I was amazed to find this lovely performance space with a little less than 100 seats hidden on the corner of an ordinary section of Camden next to the Sacred Heart Church. The South Camden Theatre Company is on their 19th season with their first ever musical coming up this year (The Toxic Avenger). Kill Move Paradise is a One Act Play that follows four Black men of different ages as they enter the Waiting Room for the Afterlife. All four have died unexpectedly in what can be assumed is a police-related incident. Due to the subject matter of the show, the play (and this review) are accompanied with a content warning for the sound/mention of firearms, language, and violence. 


To first say that the production is a technical success is an understatement. The accolades alone of the production staff, as mentioned in their playbill bios, are enough to show that this theatre company is bound for long term success. Led by Artistic Director Dawn Varava, Stage Director Damien J. Wallace, and Managing Director Brad Reiter, the production quality of the show is near-immaculate. Wallace’s expert directing style comes through in crisp blocking, well guided emotional development, and in each moment that the four characters share. It is only with a truly great director that a piece of art like this can come to life in such a successful way. Lighting Designer Hunter A. Mountz and Sound Designer Ryk Lewis work synchronously together as many of their cues happen at the same moment, bringing even God’s wrath in with a well timed lightning strike. I was also moved by detailed lighting tricks like the typewriter, police lights, and the mysterious glow at the back of the house. Claudine Ayscue’s costume design fleshes out the characters beautifully, giving us an immediate understanding of who each character is meant to represent, while Choreographer Lashawn Elise executes key moments of the show with grace. Robert Bingaman, Scenic Designer/Marketing/Board President, created a captivating set that tells the story perfectly. I was particularly moved by the slanted wall at the back of the stage, often used as a ramp for the characters’ desperate escape attempts. The staff is rounded out with Stage Manager Ryan Lusk, Assistant Stage Manager Gabriella Velasquez, and Technical Director Joshua Samors, whose work is greatly appreciated behind the scenes. Doel Rodriquez was also greatly appreciated as a friendly face who greeted the audience at the door. 


As Each character plays such a pivotal role in the play, I will be discussing them in the order that they enter the Waiting Room. First we see Isa, who is portrayed by Craig McLaren. This character is deeply complex and leaves a few parts of his story to the imagination of the audience. McLaren’s performance in this role is absolutely captivating. He is charismatic, charming, and warm while still having an underlying aire of mystery in his posture and almost-too-calm voice. At one point in the play, Isa reads a list of fallen Black men and women, slowly going through all the stages of grief. He starts calm and slowly becomes enraged until it wears him away to tears and a wavering voice. This reading is so sincerely heartbreaking. He sheds away the charisma that he previously exuded, revealing the broken man beneath the facade. McLaren continues throughout the play as a leader to the other three men, saying that he has experienced the Waiting Room before. The connections that he has made with each character run deep throughout all that he does, showing that McLaren has put his whole heart and soul into telling this story. 


The second man we meet is Grif, portrayed by Tariq Kanu, who is said to have once been the Valedictorian of his class. Kanu’s performance in this role is nuanced, complex, and divine. Starting out terrified, he exhibits a full range of finely tuned emotions throughout the act. Grif has learned to keep a tight hold on his feelings throughout his childhood and it is because of this that Kanu maintains a perfectly calibrated display for the audience. It is only much later in the show where he is finally able to let go of these tethers and we get to see a complete change in Grif, going from a timid and frightened young man to someone who has begun to accept the cards that he has been dealt. Kanu’s tenderness lends a hand to Grif’s full character and allows the audience to care deeply for him early on. Kanu’s connection with McLaren on stage allows for a few much appreciated laughs as they break the fourth wall, talking to and about the audience. Kanu's connections with each character are equally complex, especially as he meets the new guest in the Waiting Room.


Daz is the third character in the Waiting Room, played by Jai Surles. The vibrancy of this character is beautifully portrayed by Surles as he exhibits the tendencies of a person who has been hurt repeatedly by those he once trusted. I was blown away by how authentic Surles is able to make Daz feel, making it seem like he isn’t playing a character at all. The way that he first enters the Waiting Room, terrified and screaming, only to stifle the fears under an immediate facade, gives the audience a glimpse at the pain that he carries around with him all the time. Surles is a gleaming success on stage from start to finish as he counters Grif’s emotional control with outbursts and emotional turmoil. It is in this depiction that the audience can find someone that Daz reminds them of, whether that be a friend, family member, or in my case some of my own students. Surles, Kanu, and McLaren together are a riveting masterpiece throughout the first half of the show. They have clearly worked hard to master their respective roles and how they exist with one another. Their line delivery in unison is so perfect, that it gives an eeriness that is difficult to forget. 


Our final character, Tiny, is performed by George McGriff whose innocence and infectious joy allow the audience to bask in his warm smile. His laughter and games bring smiles to both audience and cast members alike before they are forced to acknowledge that this “Little Man” has faced the same fate as the other three characters. McGriff’s presentation of Tiny is beyond the point of exceptional. He is sweet, sociable, and full of imagination while never becoming a caricature of a child. McGriff is able to toe the line between charming and exaggerated beautifully, showing that he is brave enough to try new and crazy ideas on stage to further the liveliness of the character. He makes an incredible jump from this happy kid to a broken heart when he realizes that he has passed away. When he begins to cry, it is the only sound in the room and, thanks to the exceptional performances of everyone on stage, it is absolutely devastating. 


I am incredibly grateful to have gotten the opportunity to see this modern play in action. It is so rare to experience a piece of theater that will stay with you for as long as this one intends to stay with me. These four phenomenal actors, brought together by a truly exceptional staff, are the perfect ingredients for a captivating show. I am very lucky to have gotten to see this example of Black Excellence on its opening night, knowing that they will only get better for the rest of their run. If you are interested in seeing Kill Move Paradise, tickets can be found at https://www.southcamdentheatre.org/ for the rest of the run which ends on May 12th.



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