Review by Tash Bradshaw
Is God Is a brutally hilarious and thrillingly fresh take on a familiar tale of revenge and tragedy. Playwright Aleshea Harris’s bold story draws wide-ranging inspiration from Greek tragedy, spaghetti western, to the Old Testament, hip-hop and Afropunk.
The opening scene sets a dark tone. A woman with a house replacing her head cradles two babies in her arms. The large, ominous shadow of the Man looms behind her. From here launches a thrilling story of violence, revenge, love, and trauma.
A wife and mother, known as She or God (Cessalee Stovall), was set on fire by her husband, known only as Man (Kevin Copeland), in a brutal act of domestic violence 18 years ago.
After enduring the cruelty of several foster homes, all while believing their mother had died in the fire, twin daughters Racine (Masego Pitso) and Anaia (Henrietta Enyonam Amevor) receive a letter summoning them to their mother’s deathbed. Upon arrival they are asked to “Make your Daddy dead. Dead. Dead. All the way dead”, and to bring back blood and treasures.
Following a brief deliberation, carnage ensues, with a generous amount of dead-pan humour. The twins head to California to stake out their father, and the body count begins to rise.
The set begins as simple, small, wooden house in the centre of the stage, but it soon takes us across time and place, and takes on a captivating and mythical quality. The first transformation takes us to She’s deathbed, where She looks like an effigy in the “rest home for the weary” as white light shines on her face and the doors flicker with candlelight. The structure then moves us across the country to become the blinds in the Man’s lawyer’s office, and the Man’s new ‘yellow house with teal shutters’.
Long asides give depth to the side characters, and allow for comic relief from the darker themes. The Man’s new family are perfect characters for this, including his new wife Angie (Clare Chihambakwe) with her mad plan to escape her life after her sons won’t help her carry in the groceries, and their son Scotch (Darius Williams) who is so self-absorbed in his questionable poetry and the chance to see strippers that he barely notices the knife in his back.
These bouts of comic relief are encircled by chilling and cruel scenes focused on the Man’s violent act, that bring out the play’s ultimate darkness. The first comes as She gives the twins a detailed and disturbing account of the Man’s treatment of her, and the twins first learn why their bodies are scarred and charred. Later, we hear the Man’s side of the story. His lack of repentance and the casualness in which he discusses the incident is even more brutal than the violence which spans the rest of the play. He shrugs off any guilt with a simple “I was young”, and robs the twins, and the audience, of any closure. Transitions between scenes are accompanied by ominous music that keeps the audience entranced and on edge.
The play explores inequality in every senses – from one sister ‘the pretty one’ because the fire only touched her back, to the Man’s new family getting to enjoy the house with the ‘teal shutters, to the shifting power dynamics between the sisters. While the characters share many features, there is no solidarity between the haves and the have nots.
This hauntingly mesmerising play is not one to be missed.
Photo Credit: Pia Johnson