Rec Room Director on “Vengeance” and “Vindication” For Black Protagonists in Western Is God Is

Rec Room Actors Brandon Morgan, Kimberly Hicks and Comfort Ifeoma Katchy, who director D'Meza describes as "innovative," "majestic" and "fearless" respectively.
Rec Room Actors Brandon Morgan, Kimberly Hicks and Comfort Ifeoma Katchy, who director D'Meza describes as "innovative," "majestic" and "fearless" respectively. Photo by Matt Hune

Rec Room Productions is bringing bold new work to the stage, as they present the Houston premiere of the new Aleshea Harris drama Is God Is, opening July 16. Directed by Candice D’Meza, who describes this visionary 90-minute one-act as “very Western, very reminiscent of Greek tragedy. There are very fun elements of what you might see as Afro Punk. It can also feel a bit Afro-Surrealist.”

Centering on twin sisters Anaia and Racine (played by Comfort Ifeoma Katchy and Jessica Johnson respectively), D’Meza describes the thrust of the play by painting a picture of a West not often seen.

“They’re looking for a place in a world that has been cruel to them,” the actor/director says. “They go on a journey to find it essentially through vindication and finding their own power in that same world that has basically rendered them powerless and unimportant.“

Yet in this polarized era where some depictions of vengeances have been criticized, D’Meza is quick to make distinctions for this script and the latest Tarantino offering. “There is definitely more there in this story, but I think what is so novel about this particular narrative is that we hardly ever see Black persons as the perpetrators of vengeance, or being able to lay claim to a vengeance” she says. “There are so few narratives like that. There’s Django Unchained, and then The Harder They Fall is a Western and resonant.

"The question I think has been important to us in this process has been: can we hold space that retaliation and vengeance is a viable motive for Black people? It’s easy when we watch it in other narratives, we watch Kill Bill and we root for her the whole time.  We’re like 'Kill him; Get Bill!' But the difficulty of when the protagonists of the show are Black female young ladies that culturally, we want to say they should have forgiven. We want to put a moralistic stance on vengeance because we’re not accustomed to the existence of stories where the person is righteous and Black.”

The question then becomes how to depict theatrical violence when real-world violence violates our feeds seemingly every day. How does someone portray what happens accurately for the story without being excessive or even insensitive to the audience’s lived experiences? 

D’Meza is blunt with her answer: “Very difficult, in a word.” She continues, laughing away the tension with a focus on the contributions of fight and intimacy director Avery Vonn Kenyatta. “We have an amazing fight choreographer who has really helped create some masterful sequences of violence by framing it in a way that makes it seem that the violence is justified or that the world that the violence is in is enough of a separation to choose our vantage point of how we view it. Then there are some questions that the actors and I continue to ask – like, who gets to be privy to this personal moment of vindication? How much do we let the audience see of it happening?”

D’Meza comes back to the actors as a source of inspiration, saying this is a special cast together makes a ‘wonderful team.’ Describing the process of directing this group as “90 percent collaboration,” D’Meza might have had another person to consider while making the leap to directing with Rec Room — her five-month old daughter. 

“It is a really heavy piece. And I’ve got a baby that today is five months, who comes to rehearsals with me. I came at this very much with a [sense of] ‘I Don’t Know,’ right? We’ll find this together. We tried in the first week with the two actresses playing the twins, Comfort and Jessica, to choose wrong: to make the wrong choices. I’m mostly an actor in theater, it’s new that I’m on the other side.  I remember making choices because I wanted to make the director happy, I don’t want them to re-cast me. That fear has always limited my choices. I tried to help them to understand that I don’t have a right answer. I would love for you to feel safe to choose wrong. Let’s make the wrongest choices we can!”

Preview Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 14 and Friday, July 15. Opening Night is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 16, with additional performances scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through August 6 at 100 Jackson, 130 C. For information, call 713-344-1291 or visit $5-50

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Vic covers the comedy scene, in Houston and beyond. When not writing articles, he's working on his scripts, editing a podcast, doing some funny make-em-ups or preaching the good word of supporting education in the arts.
Contact: Vic Shuttee