By Adam Rafferty
This is a very unique play and a very unique production for Melbourne Theatre Company (in co-production with Sydney Theatre Company), not just in storyline, but in style too. This is a tale of revenge in almost a comic book kind of ‘action-writ-large’ manner. Think Kill Bill, but without the gore, and an added extra helping of humour.
Written by American playwright Aleshea Harris, it tells the story of twin sisters Racine (Masego Pitso) and Anaia (Henrietta Enyonam Amevor), who have grown up in foster care after being involved in a terrible act of domestic violence as young children that saw the pair horribly scarred from burns, Anaia more so than Racine.
The girls are of the impression that their mother (Cessalee Stovall, her character credited as ‘She’) had died in the blaze, so they’re surprised to be called to her bedside, where she tells them the truth of the incident that saw them burned. Through Stovall’s enticing performance, the girls see their mother in a sort of saintly light, as though she were part of a fluoro-lit religious fresco. So when she tells them that God has a mission for them to make their Daddy ‘dead, dead, dead. All the way dead.’ along with anyone around him, they take the duty to their mother seriously.
Racine quickly finds her weapon of choice for murder, while Anaia takes convincing that she can walk the path to revenge so easily. However, it doesn’t take long before the road that leads them to their father (Kevin Copeland, credited as ‘Man’) is littered with corpses.
The murderous action is undertaken in a very exaggerated, cartoony manner and the nature of the killings, and the victims, is often so absurd that the result is equal parts comedy and tragedy. Of course, there is some space for consideration of the larger themes of domestic violence giving birth to a further cycle of violence through generations, and the futile nature of revenge, but ultimately the visceral satisfaction achieved, much like the finale of a Tarantino film, is what leaves the deepest impression.
Pitso and Amevor have great charm as sisters with bonds that go even further than the ties of being twins. Their on-stage rapport is so endearing, thanks in no small part I’m sure to co-directors Zindzi Okenyo and Sharri Sebbens, that you’re not only willing to join them on their homicidal road trip, but cheering them on.
Along their journey the girls fatefully meet board short wearing lawyer, Chuck Hall (Patrick Williams), a frustrated ‘Real Housewife of the O.C.’ type, Angie (Clare Chihambakwe) and her twin boys – for emphasis – the amateur poet and horndog Scotch (Darius Williams) and the sensitive, plant-loving Riley (Grant Young). While as characters, they are largely grist for the mill, Harris does attempt to build some back-story for each so that the senseless losses have varying impact.
When it comes to the ‘final boss fight’ Copeland delivers the stature and vocal growl one would expect from a character so black at its core, but a lack of real menace and intention behind his delivery deflates this important moment somewhat. Thankfully, Amevor’s powerful performance here and connection through to the finale bring the level of satisfaction desired.
Technical aspects of this production are clean and simple, but cleverly handled, for what feels like a story written for a more intimate space, played out on the expansive Sumner stage.
This is a playful, yet powerful play, the likes of which is rarely seen on Melbourne stages, making for a pleasing contrast to the rest of the MTC’s season so far this year. In fact, due to its uncommon nature, I’d say you’re unlikely to see another a tragi-comic tale of vengeance like this for quite some time.
Image: Pia Johnson