Haley Johnson, SyKnese Fields, and Amber Redmond in Is God Is (Thomas Kimble TK Photography)
Is God Is, currently onstage at Kansas City Melting Pot, is unlike any piece of theatre you’ll see this year, and likely for some time after that. Aleshea Harris’ play is a violent, visceral piece of Black Americana—a Greek tragedy by way of a dark fable, with a bit of an Old Testament feel thrown into the mix.
The play centers on twin sisters Racine (Haley Johnson) and Anaia (SyKnese Fields), summoned to the “Dirty South” by a mother they thought died in a fire 18 years earlier. She’s been close to death’s door since the blaze that left all three women with scars, both emotional and physical, but now that she’s about to cross over for good, she has assigned her daughters a heavy task: to track down and kill their estranged father, the man responsible for the tragedy. “Make your daddy dead” they are instructed. Maybe bring back a few treasures while they’re at it.
That’s an extreme, borderline absurd mission for two young women but in the world of this dark fairytale, it’s also believable. Both of these sisters carry deep pain, though they wear it differently. Fields’ Anaia is like a wounded bird with her sadness, while Johnson’s Racine has a terrifying undercurrent of vengeful menace. Together, they are a captivating force. Beholden to one another and their shared history, they also feel compelled to carry out the orders from their mother (Amber Redmond), named only “She” in the program, dubbed “God” by the sisters. After all, “She made us, didn’t she?” Even if that God has been absent their entire lives, now that she’s made herself known, how can they possibly refuse her? The scenes the women are faced with on their quest are increasingly farcical, bordering on cartoonish at times, but the rules and stakes of this world are so well established that the fantastical journey feels grounded.
In the interest of transparency, I should share that I went to graduate school with Harris and have been an enormous fan of hers for many years. It is so thrilling to see others have the opportunity to experience her deeply evocative work. Harris’s language is highly stylized, lilting and lyrical, and the entire cast, guided by the masterful Lynn King, handles the poetry deftly. Warren Deckert’s lighting goes far in shaping this world, standing in for much of the violence depicted and playing dramatically against Doug Schroeder’s sparse set. Is God Is is a brilliant show worth seeing on its own; it’s also likely to be many theatergoers’ first introduction to one of the most exciting playwrights of a generation.
“Is God Is,” a production of KC Melting Pot, runs through September 23 at the Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central. For more information, visit www.kcmeltingpot.com.