The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
Is God Is
By Jacob Horn
This isn't a new type of story—in ancient times, Odysseus rampaged against Penelope's suitors—but it is one that's flourished in Spaghetti Westerns and their filmic progeny, such as Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Aleshea Harris's new play Is God Is infuses this kind of narrative with an Afropunk sensibility as two Black twin sisters journey from the Dirty South to California with instructions to kill their father. Their blood-soaked travels are as much a satire of a well-tread genre as an earnest exploration of what it means to claim justice, to survive violence, and to depict Black characters on stage.
Is God Is, directed by Taibi Magar, begins with the twins—Anaia (Alfie Fuller) and Racine (Dame-Jasmine Hughes)—being called to their mother's side as she approaches death. This is unexpected, as they believed their mom to have died in the same fire that left the two of them burned and disfigured. She (Jessica Frances Dukes) tells them that blaze was an act of violence by their father (Teagle F. Bougere), and tasks them with killing him so that she can die avenged.
What is quickly apparent when watching the play is the astonishing ease with which Harris can ground a pulpy setup with a strong emotional charge while fully exploiting the humor of the genre's over-the-top tendencies. As their mother howls for blood, Racine and Anaia's reaction is surprisingly honest: panic. They have nothing to say at first except "Uh." Anaia tries to walk away. Even once they're discussing how they might go about the task, they simultaneously exist within the genre and far enough outside of it to offer incisive critiques.
Fuller and Hughes make for a good team, both as assassins and as performers. Each compliments and amplifies the other's energy, and they highlight the similarities between the sisters while sharply accentuating their differences. They embrace Harris's use of dialect and occasional use of the third person to emphasize the theme of speech and voice.
The twins are far and away the central focus of the play, but Dukes also offers an impactful performance, exploring the contradictions of a character so deeply wronged and yet so unconcerned with the cost of her vengeance. The ensemble is rounded out by Anthony Cason, Nehassaiu deGannes, Caleb Eberhardt, and Michael Genet, each of whom gets a memorable moment.
With Is God Is, SoHo Rep. returns to its longtime Walker Street home, which the company suddenly abandoned in September 2016 after discovering that the theater wasn't in accordance with the zoning of its building. With newly enhanced safety features, the Walkerspace is once again able to operate. The renovation did not, however, change the nature of the small performance space, which retains its intimacy as well as its limitations.
Intentionally or not, Adam Rigg's scenic design for the production acknowledges these limitations and defiantly blasts through them. The first scene begins in a narrow hallway, but it's soon revealed that more lies beyond a slit window. Rigg continues to cleverly tinker with theatrical space in the play's later chapters.
Matthew Richards's lighting accentuates the set design at key junctures. Costume design by Montana Levi Blanco and Cookie Jordan's hair/wig design are also important contributions in a play where appearances, of people as much as of spaces, are deeply connected to the plot.
Props designer Samantha Shoffner and fight director J. David Brimmer create startling, but not gratuitous, realizations of violence and its aftermath. And sound designer Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste builds out a soundscape that acknowledges the cultural influences on the play, with music evoking the Western as well as more contemporary references like a distorted remix of Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" (the music video for which also offers a revenge tale of its own).
In Is God Is, Harris, Magar, and the cast and designers delicately—and comfortably—situate themselves at the intersection of high and lowbrow. The play's narrative would be at home in a pulp film, yet its approach is a rigorous one, interrogating questions of ethics, morality, genre, and representation. The real feat, though, is that it does this while telling a darkly funny and, at times, genuinely disturbing story. There are moments where the content of the play is hard to watch. Fortunately, this production never is.
Search CurtainUp in the box below
Is God Is
by Aleshea Harris
Directed by Taibi Magar
with Teagle F. Bougere (Man), Anthony Cason (Riley), Nehassaiu deGannes (Angie), Jessica Frances Dukes (She), Caleb Eberhardt (Scotch), Alfie Fuller (Anaia), Michael Genet (Chuck Hall), and Dame-Jasmine Hughes (Racine)
Scenic Design: Adam Rigg
Costume Design: Montana Levi Blanco
Lighting Design: Matthew Richards
Sound Design: Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste
Props Design: Samantha Shoffner
Fight Director: J. David Brimmer
Hair and Wig Designer: Cookie Jordan
Assistant Director: Tyler Thomas
Production Stage Manager: Danielle Teague-Daniels
Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission
SoHo Rep., 46 Walker Street
Tickets: February 6–March 11, $35 general and $65 premium; March 13–25, $45 general and $85 premium; 99 cents on Sundays, February 25, March 4, and March 11; (212) 352-3101 or www.sohorep.org
From 2/6/2018; opened 2/18/2018; closing 3/41/2018
Performance times: Tuesdays–Sundays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays at 3 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 2/14/2018 performance
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):
Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted at http://curtainupnewlinks.blogspot.com to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter