There have been very few moments in theatre when I’ve felt legitimately terrified. Is God Is has several. Aleshea Harris’ play is a genre-jumping revenge epic, a contemporary fable that feels fantastical even as it drags its characters and the audience through very human muck.
A collaboration between Obsidian Theatre, Necessary Angel and Canadian Stage—Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu’s production is an arresting technical and artistic achievement. With immersive cinematic elements that sizzle and pop, she delivers Tarantino-esque spectacle that enhances our investment in the messy, all too real people that anchor the story.
After eighteen years unmoored from their history, abandoned twin sisters, Anaia (Vanessa Sears) and Racine (Oyin Oladejo), meet their disfigured mother, She (Alison Sealy-Smith), on her death-bed. She reveals their traumatic past—an awful night that saw their father, Man (Tyrone Benskin), set her on fire in front of them. The mystery of their shared scars dispelled, she sends them on a mission: “make your daddy dead.”
An encounter with his guilt-ridden lawyer, Chuck Hall (Matthew G. Brown), trying to erase a shameful past with pills and liquor, sets them on the path to their father and his new family. They discover their male counterparts, a second set of twins, Riley (Micah Woods) and Scotch (Savion Roach) and their escaping mother, Angie (Sabryn Rock).
As the violence of their past binds the sisters and propels them from the deep South to the Hollywood Hills, their conflicting attitudes put them at odds. What will be their legacy—continuing bloodshed or an end to the vicious cycle?
Vivid and undeniably compelling, none of characters here are too easy to root for. Each of them resonants, with nuanced and persuasive performances from the entire cast, and we must struggle with their realness. Our stomaches churn with sympathy and revulsion as humour and horror fuse.
Ken Mackenzie‘s set features moveable screens lined with light. Onto these, Laura Warren projects scorching fire and vast desert landscapes. As light hits surfaces, it evokes a textured grime of blood stains and rust.
Classic Western iconography gives way to a giddy sit-com aesthetic as we exchange one set of tropes for another. Whimsical and portentous title cards give the production a playful, episodic feel, pulling us inexorably towards an ugly, final confrontation.
Ming Wong’s costumes for Anaia and Racine blend Afro-punk and body horror—the suggestion of burns scars is playfully grotesque—and provide a dynamic contrast for the cartoonish normalcy of the affluent world the sisters invade. Raha Javanfar’s lighting takes us from blazing heat to cool domesticity. Thomas Ryder Payne gives thrilling momentum to scene transitions with a filmic soundtrack that evokes elements from the varied genres from which the story pulls.
Indulging our deep-rooted lust for vengeance, Is God Is forces us to examine the ruinous consequences of our worst impulses. And it’s just so much fun, even when it terrifies, even though it leaves you feeling uncomfortably branded.