Jon Herbert, Ty'Ree Gary, Johnathan Byrd and Kyron Highley rehearse a scene from "Kill Move Paradise." (Photo: Payton Jackson)

Springfield Contemporary Theatre doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. Its latest production, “Kill Move Paradise” is one that will challenge audiences, just as it has challenged the cast.

“Kill Move Paradise” will be staged at the Springfield Art Museum, 1111 East Brookside Dr., Aug. 5-7 and Aug. 11-14.

Here’s the setup for “Kill Move Paradise”: “Four black men find themselves stuck in a waiting room for the afterlife. As they attempt to make sense of their new paradise, Isa, Daz, Grif and Tiny are forced to confront the reality of their past, and how they arrived in this unearthly place.”

James Ijames, 2022 Pulitzer-winning playwright, describes his play as “an expressionistic buzz saw through the contemporary myth that ‘all lives matter’ and a portrait of the slain, not as degenerates who deserved death but as heroes who demand that we see them for who they are.”

A press release added, “‘Kill Move Paradise’ depicts these young men as symbols of hope and illustrates the possibilities of collective transformation and radical acts of joy.”

Jon Herbert, directing the play’s Southwest Missouri premiere, has found another important angle to the script.

“It’s about black male vulnerability,” he said. “At the first read-through we did, everyone just had such amazing things to share. Everyone in the cast has been moved and challenged by this play. It’s one of the most vulnerable plays I think I’ve ever worked with.”

And that has required a lot of the cast of Herbert, Johnathan Byrd, Ty’Ree Gary and Kyron Highley.

Johnathan Byrd, Jon Herbert and Ty’Ree Gary rehearse a scene from “Kill Move Paradise.” (Photo: Payton Jackson)

“It’s a great group of guys,” Herbert said. “There’s a lot of trust and I’ve told them a number of times in rehearsal it’s no small thing I’m asking of you. These characters are extremely vulnerable and playing them might require a level of vulnerability you might not be used to.”

That vulnerability is a big part of the play.

“This a play about black deaths, but it’s not so much a play about black deaths as a celebration of black life and brotherhood and kinship and transformation,” Herbert said. “It’s very much a play about black male vulnerability. This is something that is generally highly guarded. Male vulnerability is highly guarded, period; black male vulnerability is doubly so for many reasons. There are so many moments that we see these men in the play go through that are rarely seen and rarely shared and I think it’s really brave to be so visibly vulnerable in this space.”

“Kill Move Paradise,” which contains adult language and content, is inspired by recent events and is described by SCT as audacious and often hilarious. Where does the humor come from? A lot of places, it turns out. There’s the interplay between the characters as well as characters addressing the audience. The show also tips into absurdity.

“There are moments in the play where it really breaks from realism and they get into a game of aliens and cowboys for instance,” Herbert said. “That’s kind of a humorous moment. There’s a parody of a sitcom that happens that’s pretty funny. There’s a 1960s song and dance. It’s surprisingly light for a play with a theme this heavy.”

Herbert, who works and directs plays at Ozarks Technical Community College, has not just found challenges in this play, though. He’s also found joy.

“This is the first time for me that I’ve really had the opportunity to work with a team of black men,” he said. “I myself am black and typically, especially in this part of the country and where I work, most of the people who come out for that are not of color. Just the opportunity to do black theater, and this play specifically, has been great.”

For more information visit Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s website or call 417-831-8001.

Want to go?

“Kill Move Paradise” — August 5-7, Aug. 11-14

Location: Springfield Art Museum, 1111 East Brookside Dr.

Show times: Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.

Tickets: Adults $29, seniors/students $26, opening night $24, student rush $10

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger