After Long Absence, Soho Rep Returns with 'Shocking' Drama, 'Is God Is'

Alfie Fuller, left, and Dame-Jasmine Hughes in the roles of revengeful daughters. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Feb. 16, 2018

It’s fair to call Aleashea Harris’s new play, “Is God Is,” a revenge tragedy, but that would tell only half the story in this electrifying and by turns funny and shocking drama. Featuring some first-class performances in an unconventional production, it is a fitting play for the reopening of the Soho Rep, the missed but not forgotten Tribeca theater that has been dark for some 16 months. Soho Rep is known for not backing away from “difficult” plays and it seems that this tradition will continue in the renovated space.

Harris has already been showered in accolades for "Is God Is," including the Relentless Award from the American Playwriting Foundation–-and no wonder. For while the dark tale of twin sisters who seek revenge on the father for being seriously burnt is gruesome, the writing is fresh and dynamic. Take their mother’s description of them laughing just before the fire: “Babies giggle, like they got the sun in their mouths.”

Displaying a solid grasp of structure and pace, Harris tells a complicated story swiftly and clearly, yet without shying away from incisive character development. We are whisked from a New York City apartment, to a hospital bed somewhere in the Deep South, to the canyons of California in a picaresque quest for vengeance against the twins’ father. There are ample references to the classics, theater of the absurd and the Western movie genre with overtones of myth for good measure.

The twins, Racine and Anaia, played by Dame-Jasmine Hughes and Alfie Fuller, together carry the central drama of the play. They are sent on a quest by their dying mother, a sinister, near-death corpse they dub “God” played by Jessica Frances Dukes, to find their wayward father who left the girls and their mother to their fate as flames consumed them. All three women are maimed and the grisly make-up designed by Montana Levi Blanco is at first hard to look at. But the scars are part of their character and perhaps give them the strength to wreak havoc as they pursue their goal. Racine, “the pretty one,” is a determined optimist who also wields a “rock in sock”  weapon in scenes that would not be out of place in a splatter movie. Anaia, “the ugly one,” whose face was disfigured, is the worrier and the emotional one. She has qualms about their task but overcomes her misgivings to help her sister. “I like my ugly…it’s like a superpower,” she says.

Harris’s writing and Taibi Magar’s crisp direction ably convey that special relationship that many twins have. But not all twins. By the time they have tracked down their father’s house, they have discovered that he has a new wife, the harried Angie (a superb Nehassaiu deGannes) and twin sons. Anthony Cason as the prissy Riley is the polar opposite of his twin, the rapping, raunchy Scotch, played by Caleb Eberhardt. While Racine and Anaia are raw and feisty, their twin half-brothers are callow and spoiled. The differences beg the question as to which offspring have inherited their father’s disposition. Teagle F. Bougere as the father delivers a devastating revelation that skews everything the female twins believed.

All this takes place in the tight confines of the Soho Rep, but the shallow stage is ingeniously used with a moving proscenium arch effect that brings the action closer to the audience as the dramatic tension rises. Set design is by Adam Rigg. A number of scenes are observed through a wide slit of a window, giving an impression of watching a television drama. There’s a final flourish of staging that will take your breath away, if the twin’s bloody mayhem and madcap humor haven’t done so already.

“Is God Is,” at Soho Rep, 46 Walker St., through March 25, runs 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Cast: Teagie F. Bougere, Anthony Cason, Nehassaiu deGannes, Jessica Frances Dukes, Caleb Eberhardt, Alfie Fuller, Michael Genet and Dame-Jasmine Hughes