29 September 2021, The Tablet

Not all Greek to us

Not all Greek to us

Adelayo Adedayo, left, Ray Emmet Brown and Tamara Lawrance in Is God Is
Photo: Tristram Kenton


Is God Is
Royal court Theatre, London

Modern literary works that invoke deity – Yasmina Reza’s play The God of Carnage, the ­novels Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins – tend, oddly, not to be explicitly religious.

In Is God Is by the young award-winning African-American playwright, Aleshea Harris, the title phrase – circular and posed as statement not question – refers to Racine (Tamara Lawrance) and Anaia (Adelayo Adedayo), 21-year-old twins scarred from a terrible fire they barely survived in childhood, nicknaming their late mother “God”, on the basis that she gave them life.

As siblings convinced their mother was killed by their estranged father, Racine and Anaia resemble, except for a parental gender reverse, Electra and Orestes in The Libation Bearers, the central play in Aeschylus’ trilogy, The Oresteia.
The echo is meant. Their mother’s unexpected letter saying that she is alive, though dying, and wishes them to kill their father, ­triggers a revenge drama that is deeply Greek classical but retold in a very contemporary tone. Harris consciously channels the comedic violence pioneered by the movies of Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and the plays by Martin McDonagh (The Lieutenant of Inishmore) and David Ireland (Cyprus Avenue).

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