'Is God Is' at Mixed Blood is a powerful tale of revenge

'Is God Is'

'Is God Is' Rich Ryan

In Is God Is, Dame-Jasmine Hughes gives the kind of towering performance that sticks with you for years.

Is God Is

Mixed Blood Theatre
Free first-come, first-served tickets; $35 for guaranteed seating

Racine is a young woman full of coiled power and resentment, her patience long gone. She doesn't set out to be a murderous vigilante — but when her mother asks her to become one, Racine finds that the bloody sneaker fits very nicely.

She's a larger-than-life character in a play that rings with the outsized mythic notes of a spaghetti western. A hyper-violent pop-expressionist revenge fantasy, Is God Is resembles a Quentin Tarantino movie, except that none of the juicy roles are reserved for white performers. The ravages of institutional racism are manifest in every scene, but this wildly entertaining story is told by a sterling cast of African-American actors.

Mixed Blood's production of Aleshea Harris' play offers Minneapolis audiences the enviable opportunity to see one of this year's most buzzed-about new plays. Is God Is premiered just this February at Soho Rep (where Hughes also starred), and Hollywood heavyweight Scott Rudin has already jumped to begin producing a film adaptation. Director Nataki Garrett's Mixed Blood production demonstrates, once again, the company's ability to use its flexible space to great effect for innovative, immersive plays.

Though Christopher Heilman's set holds crucial surprises, it offers a drab, unassuming frame for the show's opening scene, as we meet twin sisters: the nervous Anaia (Chaz Hodges) and the bold Racine. Both bear extensive scars from a fire they endured in early childhood, a blaze they thought claimed the life of their mother.

A letter, though, reveals that their mother (a gripping Joy Dolo) is still alive — but dying, after suffering for years from her severe head-to-toe burns. She calls Racine and Anaia to her side to share a shocking revelation about the fire's cause, and to make a final request. She wants the girls to find and kill their father.

The sisters set out on a cross-country journey that leads to encounters with their father's suicidal lawyer (Kevin D. West), his second wife (Jessica Rosilyn), their twin stepbrothers (Kory Pullam and Jacob Gibson), and… well, that's enough spoilers, but Kirkaldy Myers, credited as "Man" in the program, is the last person Racine and Anaia confront before the story arrives at its macabre conclusion.

Garrett impressively manages the balancing act this material requires. The show's emotions are deliberately oversaturated — Dolo's unashamed bloodlust, West's selfish desperation, Rosilyn's mortal fear — but Harris never loses sight of the truth behind her characters' extreme actions. Women like Anaia and Racine have been more grievously wronged than any of cinema's many gun-toting white-guy antiheroes… why shouldn't they get the same cathartic comeuppance?

At the story's center, Hughes and Hodges confidently inhabit intimately-connected characters who resolve to take a dramatic step together. Both performances prove that subtle doesn't always mean small: with Racine and Anaia, neither a word nor an action is wasted. The result is an astonishing, exhilarating theatrical experience.