A Searing Family Drama in ‘Is God Is’, But Its Revenge Comes Up Cold
A blaze, a horrific revelation, and a righteous quest are at the center of Washington Ensemble Theatre’s latest, Is God Is. But despite some strong acting, the production lacks the requisite conviction — and bloodshed — to bring its characters justice. It runs through September 23.
The apocalypse has arrived in Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is, a shitkicking revenge tale with a voracious appetite. Westerns, blaxploitation and Biblical myth are chewed up and spit out, reformed into something mangled and new.
It’s not literally the end of the world, though one might think so given the grim scenic design in Washington Ensemble Theatre’s production, produced in partnership with The Hansberry Project. Lex Marcos’ striking, if not terribly functional, multi-level set is bordered by charred Venetian blinds and piles of filthy, soot-covered clothes. It’s an overly literal depiction of its protagonists’ personal Armageddon, a fire that left its mark on their bodies and changed their lives forever.
Twin sisters Anaia (Maya Burton) and Racine (Kamaria Hallums-Harris) were just kids when the flames engulfed them. Racine escaped with burns down her back and neck, but Anaia’s face and torso were massively disfigured.
Their mom (Laura Steele) had it worse. In one of the play’s pungent monologues, she details the excruciating moments her body was consumed by fire and provides her daughters with some new information: Their father set the blaze. Mom has one request as her body deteriorates under a shroud the color of dried blood: Kill him.
The twins’ righteous quest — and it is righteous; their mother is God — transports them from the “Dirty South” to California, and Harris’ script’s style vacillates from scriptural rigor to somewhat less fruitful arch satire.
WET’s production, directed by Lava Alapai, is far more uneven, every scene in this episodic tale stabbing at a different tone. The twins’ meeting with their mother is haunting, but it’s soon replaced by agonizingly broad comedy as the twins pummel their father’s lawyer (Brace Evans) for information on his whereabouts. The chipper suburban hell of dad’s new life, complete with another set of twins (Charles Antoni and Tré Scott, both slyly funny), is amusing, but the play is most at home when it’s at its darkest.
Dad (Evans) does eventually show, a literal Man with No Name, wearing a cowboy hat and whistling The Andy Griffith Show theme. He’s an icon of cool masculinity and wholesome Americana rolled into one, and when he speaks in gentle tones, we wonder if everything we’ve heard about him was a lie. By now, we know Harris is about to upend things — and bloodily.
Gore is in short supply in WET’s production, where you’ll have to squint to spot the contents of a blood capsule or a severed extremity. Harris’ script begs for excess and is denied repeatedly. Much of the stage combat is halting or awkward, and the menace of the twins’ preferred weapon — a rock in a sock — is lessened considerably when it sounds like a Nerf ball bouncing off someone’s back. None of this is easy stuff to translate to the stage (Harris is adapting Is God Is for film, where it may be more at home), but the weak pulse of WET’s production does the play no favors.
Fortunately, Burton and Hallums-Harris make for an engaging odd couple, as Anaia’s hesitant sweetness and Racine’s brash exuberance are forced to interlock for a shared mission from God. We get the stylized archetype and the complex human in both of their performances. Harris’ depiction of the traumatizing influence of generational violence may get short shrift here, but the actors give us glimpses of the brutal transformation.
Is God Is runs through 9/23 at 12th Avenue Arts on Capitol Hill. Tickets $25, available here. For showtimes, visit Calendar page. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall, with one nearby gender-neutral, single-stall restroom available by key code. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Dusty Somers is a lifelong Seattleite whose love of the arts has resulted in a distressingly large physical media collection. Right about now, he’s probably watching a movie, seeing a play or listening to a record. He has covered theatre for City Arts, The Seattle Times, and NWTheatre.