In case you think, based on the title, that you're in for some subtle parsing of the metaphysical, here's the content warning for Is God Is, a new production from Washington Ensemble Theatre: “This play is bloody and brutal. It is harsh, harsh, harsh. Please be advised that the content includes spousal abuse, violence, overdose, murder, death, the use of fog and strobe lights, and rocks in socks."
The play, from writer Aleshea Harris, has frequently been dubbed an Afropunk take on a Quentin Tarantino–style spaghetti western revenge plot, fortified with Old Testament retribution and perhaps a dash of Hamlet. On an expressionistic set—dirty, ruined clothes skirt the stage and huge, equally dirty venetian blinds hang all around as dividers (nowhere is literal)—She, aka “God,” (Laura Steele) sits on her deathbed. Her former husband set her on fire years ago. Now her two estranged daughters, Anaia and Racine (Maya Burton and Kamaria Hallums-Harris, both very good)—who also got burned in that fire—visit her. She gives them a mission: to take vengeance on their father, Man. To leave him “dead, real dead. Lots of blood is fine.”
Sounds straightforward and righteously vindictive enough—they’re on a mission from mom, their creator, after all. Then the sisters’ bloodlust kicks in. Their grim palimpsest begins to include not only Man but anyone Racine deems complicit in Man’s sin—legally, economically, biologically. Soon that rock in the sock comes out and bodies accrue. The killing gets leavened with banter and physical comedy, which the cast carries off with verve. (Though, oddly for a play that advertises it up-front, it’s fairly bloodless—the cleanup by the end more a job for a couple paper towels than a mop.)
Amid all the murder are layers, unavoidably, of class violence, of gender, of blackness as it relates both to itself and to whiteness. How healing is revenge for the scars, literal and figurative, of the past? You'll get little in the way of grand soliloquies as answers. They come mostly through implication, suggestion. Just look to the title’s meaningless cycle.
Is God Is
Sept 6–23, 12th Avenue Arts, $25