What do you get when you cross a modern-day instance of brutal domestic violence with the mythic revenge plots of ancient Greek tragedy and then add in a dash of Pulp Fiction-esque violence?

You get something like Aleshea Harris’s play Is God IsThe play opens on a pair of two young Black women, twins Anaia (Sarai Quinice) and Racine (Shannon Williams). They describe a terrible fire that killed their mother when they were young girls and left them both with painful scars – Racine on her shoulder and neck, and Anaia across her face – and also sent them into a series of abusive foster home situations. But then a letter arrives, from their mother (Kim El, moving and also surprisingly hilarious in the role) – whom they call “God,” because she created them – who is not dead, but now dying, and who summons them to her nursing home. She commands them to exact revenge on the abusive bastard who set them all on fire: “Make your dad dead…make him real dead…all the way dead. Lots of blood is fine.”

L to R: Kim El, Sarai Quinice, and Shannon Williams. Photo courtesy barebones productions.

So begins their grotesque journey of revenge, which takes them west, first to extract intel from the lawyer (Garbie Dukes) who got their father off scot-free, and then to the upscale home in the California hills where dad (played by director Javon Johnson) lives with his new family: wife Angie (Kelsey Robinson), an angsty, privileged bird yearning to escape her gilded cage, and twin teenaged sons Riley (Kivon Reeves) and Scotch (Todd Griffin, a comic standout in the ensemble), self-absorbed and navel-gazing, as kids of that age tend to be. Along the way Racine fashions a weapon out of a rock and a sock that gets bloodier and bloodier as the play goes on (fight direction by Randy Kovitz), in obedience to their mother’s injunction to inflict as much physical and emotional damage on their father as they can.

Stylistically, the play is a pastiche of tropes and techniques from both film and theater: chapter headings that appear on a television elevated above the stage gesture both to the use of screen titles in films like Inglorious Basterds, and to the Brechtian use of scene titles on stage; characters narrate their own stories in a way that is both like a film voice over and like the commentary of a Greek chorus; and the set – which has a rectangular hole in the wall, with curtains that reveal what is behind it – makes you feel like you are simultaneously watching characters on a screen and in a puppet show. Tonally, the play requires a range of registers, from the kind of deadpan comedy-violence of a Tarantino film to the howling anguish of a Euripidean tragedy. The ever-reliable Steve Tolan helps to establish the antic mayhem with suitably gory and outrageous special effects, but on opening night the ensemble seemed to still be navigating the play’s tonal complexities. 

Like any good revenge plot, the play has you rooting for the girls to succeed with their mission, even as they commit acts of violence that are both horrifying and sometimes unwarranted. The real surprise of this play comes at the end, when you realize that where it has been heading, all along, is to show that Euripides had it right: in a world in which there is no justice through law, cycles of violence get passed down, repeating endlessly through generations.