Grim, otherworldly clips of old cartoons and open sky flicker softly on an armada of TV screens. The tinny sound of wind fills the room. These elements create the austere atmosphere of the Cabaret’s latest production – “Is God Is” by Aleshea Harris.
The show will take place at 8 and 11 p.m. from Jan. 16 through 18 at the Yale Cabaret. The story occurs two decades after twins Anaia and Racine are permanently disfigured by a mysterious accident they know little about. They receive a summons from their mother, named only “She,” who is wasting away in a hospital bed. “She” reveals that their father is to blame for the twins’ disfigurement and gives them a singular instruction: kill him.
“It’s a simple and tragic story in a Greek way. They’re on this mission for revenge,” said Faith Zamblé DRA ’22, a first year in the School of Drama and the production’s dramaturge. Zamblé is in charge of “making the play make sense” by supporting the script and the director with research, literary analysis and interpretation. Zamblé explained that “Is God Is” is rich with ideas about what it means to be middle class, to face injustice and to be black. Along with these mortal themes, the play examines modern religion and explores the possibility of a woman God. To highlight these themes, the language and mood of the play require special dramaturgical attention.
To guide his creative choices, director Christopher Betts DRA ’21 explored the artistic possibility of modern media and the play’s “spaghetti-Western-Afropunk” aesthetic.
“We never see black women’s revenge fully expressed,” Betts said. He explained that Harris took inspiration from the music video for Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” while writing the play. He wanted to acknowledge the video’s role in his realization of the play on stage.
“There’s so much cultural psychology around people who kill people, and our society has an obsession with going into that psychology,” Betts said. He explained how the set in particular draws on a common cultural understanding of media. “We brought in all these old broken TVs because that’s how, in my lived experience, entertainment was made available to me.”
Betts also stressed the character-driven nature of Harris’ writing. Actors and crew members alike agreed that dialogue and pacing are critical to the play’s artistic force.
“Making sure the pace of the dialogue between me and my twin is right is important,” said Tavia Hunt DRA ’21, who plays Anaia. “We have a familiarity that’s deeply ingrained, but it’s juxtaposed with the unfamiliarity when we’re with people and in places we’re seeing for the very first time.”
Matthew Webb DRA ’21 also considers his pacing while he plays Chuck Hall, the lawyer involved with the trial of the twins’ father two decades ago. He said the play feels unrelentingly urgent. Fate and chance drive the plot forward, and his character contrasts the story’s speed.
“Chuck Hall’s pace of life is very matter-of-fact,” Webb said. “Everything is so 20 years ago, and things are finally coming to a place of calm.” Webb compares each character’s behavior to musical tempo to emphasize that some are slow and some are fast, but each is still marching toward some final goal.
Zamblé summarized things simply. ““Is God Is” is a total mix of styles and genres. It’s about black people, and it’s a very black play.”
The Cabaret is located at 217 Park Street.
Tyler Brown | firstname.lastname@example.org