Making its Canadian debut at Canadian Stage’s Berkeley Street Theatre, Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is is an absolute phenomenon. Presented in partnership with Obsidian Theatre Company and Necessary Angel Theatre Company, this collaboration was well worth the wait! A haunting, mesmerizing, brilliant roller coaster of a play, Is God Is totally blew me away.
Director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu and set designer Ken Mackenzie transformed the Berkeley theatre space into a perfect canvas upon which to paint this legend. With the basic shape of a house, but featuring several moving parts and impressive lighting and projection by Raha Javanfar and Laura Warren, the set was able to fully take the audience along for the ride. It seemed that with every new location, they utilized a new portion of the set or some hidden spectacle would reveal itself. I particularly enjoyed how the projection could take us from being consumed by flames, to a sweet little home, to the middle of the desert in the blink of an eye. Also, the different names for each portion of the journey being projected onto various set pieces was a delightful element of the story-telling.
To call Is God Is a legend rather than a story truly seems fitting. Recounting the tale of Racine and Anaia’s quest to kill the man who wounded them and their mother, Is God Is harnesses classical elements combined with a revenge story you can’t tear yourself away from. “She” or “God” or “Mama”, however the twins refer to her, bestows them with this quest like the gods of Greek myth. Her god-like presence motivates the twins to enact the vengeance their mother wishes upon their father, leading them on a Herculean epic journey to find and kill him. The crackles of the fire alongside the whistled lullaby are haunting harbingers of what we know much be to come, and each time we hear them it’s like a little bit of Racine and Anaia change. At one point, the twins even chant in unison, admonishing him of his sins. Echoing the Greek Choruses of theatre’s past, the haunting words almost sound like a curse as he finally meets his doom. The pile of bodies left on the stage as the lights go down are a grim reminder of the price that She demanded of her girls, the price of true revenge.
To say that this cast is stellar would be an understatement. Oyin Oladejo (Racine) and Vanessa Sears (Anaia) are powerhouse performers: they never leave the stage throughout the entirety of the play and you can tell that they are pouring their heart and souls into these women. Their journey creates fundamental shifts in the characters, and both actors truly embody those changes and take the audience along for the ride. Alison Sealy-Smith gives a spell-binding performance as She; during her recounting of the incident which is the catalyst for the whole legend, you could have heard a pin drop in that full house because the audience was totally rapt with attention. She creates a loving, tender yet terrifying character befitting her role as God to her girls. Tyrone Benskin has the same charming yet horrifying duality as the Man; in his tender moments with Anaia you can understand how She and Angie have fallen in love with him. But of course, we know what lurks underneath, and when that side comes out so abruptly it’s truly frightening. Matthew G Brown, Savion Roach, Sabryn Rock, and Micah Woods round out this stunning cast, each of them delivering superb performances. Even if our time with each character is brief, we were still able to understand who they were and how they ended up where we find them and unfortunately that Racine and Anaia are going to be the last faces they ever see. I’m truly struggling to find words to accurately represent just how incredible this cast is; and to see this story being told by an all-black cast with a black writer and director was glorious.
Is God Is runs until May 22. I cannot stress enough how much you NEED to see this play. I was shaking after the performance it was so good. A play that can elicit a whole room full of quiet “Oh my God”s as the lights go down is definitely worth it. You can buy tickets at Is God Is / Canadian Stage