Review: ‘Killadelphia: mixtape of a city’

Local theater company’s one-man show is among the best of the year

killadelphia1There’s been some pretty amazing theater coming through Columbus so far this year, from Broadway glitz (“The Color Purple“) to local sublime (CATCO’s “Blackbird“). But, somehow, Sean Christopher Lewis and Available Light Theatre Company’s one-man show, “Killadelphia,” has left every other production behind.

Shining an intense and profoundly controversial lens on the disturbingly high murder rate in Philadelphia, “Killadelphia: mixtape of a city” presents a 75-minute retrospective that makes your laugh, weep and at times gawk at Lewis’ jaw-dropping tale. The show is on a nationwide tour, including dates at Junctionview Studios from Sept. 24-27—(we’re reviewing an exclusive preview show we saw last week).

Originally commissioned by InterAct Theatre and Philadelphia’s Mural Art Program (a group that chargers lifers at various prisons with the task of painting murals throughout the city), the show features Lewis’ interviews with prisoners, wardens, victims and the city’s inhabitants, interjected with commentary from Mayor Michael Nutter’s inaugural speech and sound-offs from conservative news pundits.

Doing a smorgasbord of impersonations, Lewis shows striking versatility and refreshing determination as he flows between each character. He sheds the rough exterior of one inmate for a father choking up over the death of his son, before a booming bass track transforms him into a b-boy rapper spitting lyrics about the inner city struggle.

Acting as the unofficial narrator, he walks the audience through tales of first arriving at the prison, interacting with the prisoners, having an eye-opening conversation with the warden and learning of the heartbreaking death of 23-year-old Beau Zabel—a teacher who was shot in the neck for his iPod on his way home from work.

Lewis often takes aim at racial profiling and the widely held misconceptions about prisoners’ social competency. This is the true heart of “Killadelphia.” Many of the Graterford Prison inmates Lewis emulates were barley teenagers when incarcerated. He transforms them into sympathetic characters while at the same time spotlighting their victims’ tragedies and details of the murder rates they’re responsible for inflating.

Lewis and director Matt Slaybaugh trade in popular prison film stereotype for a revolutionary second glance that’s typically never considered. The stage is modestly set with only a desk, cluttered bulletin board and backdrop of the Philadelphia skyline. Slaybaugh’s swift direction moves you quickly through the story line, creating added urgency to Lewis’ various monologues.

It all adds up to a show that can’t be missed. The “Killadelphia” storyline not only paints the portrait of a city ravaged by homicide, but acts as a revealing mirror for the way Americans view murder, and in true documentary style, it challenges the fabric of a societal norm.

“Killadelphia” runs at Junctionview Studios from Sept. 24-27. Tickets are $20 in advance or AVLT’s popular Pay What You Want system at the door. Advance reservations are recommended, as seating is limited. For reservations, head to the “Killadelphia” Web site.


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