Aleshea Harris Exposes Deep Wounds of Race War
by Hamilton Nguyen
At Oakland Theater Project, “Is God Is” by Aleshea Harris shows us two kinds of people–those who fixate on the past and those who ignore it.
All America’ secrets are revealed when twin sisters drive from the “Dirty South” to suburban California to KILL their abusive father! These tragic sisters embody the horrors of US racism and African American nightmares.
Rough-edged Racine (intriguing Jamella Cross) and gentle Anaia (captivating Rolanda D. Bell) take turns comforting each other with a frozen vegetable pack. They are suffering from their father’s fiery rage when he tried to burn them and their mother alive.
Racine is demanding and hostile, while Anaia is meek and shy—two faces of U.S. anger.
In hospital and angry as hell, the sisters discover their long lost mother, called “She” (captivating Tanika Baptiste). She is a distraught woman with a “body like an alligator,” laid out in a grim hospital bed behind gauzy pink curtains.
In an urgent Southern drawl, “She” demands: “I want him dead, real dead. A lot of blood is fine too.” Her twin girls embark on an old time Western mission–cue The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Racine and Anaia confront a Hollywood wheeler-dealer named Hall (playful Devin Cunningham). Hall is high on pills and dressed in gaudy gear. He represents America’s greed for money, fame, and power–and the consequences of obtaining them.
While Hall overdoses, the sisters menacingly confront him about their elusive father. Hall is trying to kill himself–he is desperate and trapped— stuck in a cycle of preventable violence.
Turns out that random murder does not guarantee revenge. The two tortured girls finally find their father (versatile Anthony Rollins-Mullins). But before meeting him, they run into his new suburban family.
The girls’ deadly quest fills us with dread and fear–the light-hearted dialogue escalates with white blood splattering on stage. Finally, they find the Yellow House on a hill in suburbia where their father has raised a new family. New suburban wife, feisty Angie (Tanika Baptiste), shouts orders to her lazy twin sons.
In a cruel twist, the sisters stalk their half-brothers, happy, clueless twins: playful Scotch (Rollins-Mullins) and preppy Riley (Devin Cunningham). The boys have the easy life–two parents, “yella house on the hill with the teal shutters,” fancy clothes, and yuppie salad.
The sisters watch Scotch and Riley ignoring their anxious mom, as she fruitlessly pleads for their help with the groceries. They ignore Angie because they are self-absorbed–writing poetry or making arugula salad. The brothers’ disrespect for their mother contrasts with their sisters’ reverence for theirs. The brothers act like spoiled brats, while the sisters are willing to murder to avenge their injured mom.
The difference in the twins’ upbringing reveals how the past can haunt us. Like neglected burn victims, African Americans still suffer from the old scars etched by slavery. “Is God Is” reveals the consequences of ignoring those obvious scars. See “Is God Is” to comprehend our home-grown horrors.
“Is God Is” by Aleshea Harris, directed by William Hodgson, make-up by Kellen Sherrell, fight choreography by Dave Maier, at Oakland Theater Project, Oakland, California. Info: OaklandTheaterProject.org – to April 23, 2023.
Cast: Tanika Baptiste, Rolanda D. Bell, Jamella Cross, Devin Cunningham, and Anthony Rollins-Mullins.
Banner photo: Jamella Cross & Rolanda D. Bell. Photos: Ben Krantz Studio