Total Rating: 
***3/4
Previews: 
July 1, 2015
Opened: 
July 3, 2015
Ended: 
July 26, 2015
Country: 
USA
State: 
California
City: 
Los Angeles
Company/Producers: 
InterAct Theater Co.
Theater Type: 
Regional
Theater: 
Lounge Theater
Theater Address: 
6201 Santa Monica Boulevard
Phone: 
818-765-8732
Website: 
interactla.org
Running Time: 
90 min
Genre: 
Solo
Author: 
Wendy Graf
Director: 
Anita Khanzadian
Review: 

All American Girl, Wendy Graf’s provocative new play about a home-grown terrorist, has been given a first-class production by the InterAct Theater Company. The solo play, admirably directed by Anita Khandzadian, has been double cast, with Annika Marks and Jeanne Syquia alternating in the role of Kathleen, a young Christian girl from a Boston suburb who, incredibly, transforms into a bomb-making disciple of militant Islam.

At the performance I attended, Annika Marks played Kathleen with astonishing skill and assurance, holding the audience spellbound with her command of character and text. In addition to bringing Kathleen to life, the actress also had to impersonate, in a twinkling, the likes of parents, friends, a school principal, police, preachers and imams – not to speak of the man she married, an Indian Muslim named Iqbal. Kudos to Ms Marks!

All American Girl also greatly benefits from Joel Daavid’s simple but evocative set, Carol Doehring’s subtle lighting scheme, and Anna Schulze’s original music.

Playwright Graf attempts to answer this question: how could a “normal” girl like Kathleen become an extremist, a believer in jihad, ready to kill fellow Americans (and the Israeli ambassador) in the name of Allah? “How complicit are we as a society in creating a person like Katie?” Graf asks in a program note. “Is terrorism and a propensity towards war inherent in many orthodox religions?...Is one man’s activist another man’s terrorist? Is violence and violent protest ever justified?”

When we first meet Kathleen, it’s 2012. Clad in a headscarf, she nervously rides the subway from the Bronx to Columbia University, intending to plant a bomb beside the statue of Washington and Lafayette–symbol of the West’s war mentality. The bomb is faulty, though, and doesn’t go off. Flashbacks follow: we meet Kathleen at nine, drawn to evangelical Christianity, feeling the rapture, yearning to become “a warrior in God’s army.” Then we meet her as an idealistic young teacher on a pastoral mission to teach disadvantaged children. She loves her job, and the kids love her, but that counts for nothing when she is fired for attacking the Dorcester slumlords in class. Back to college she goes, getting good grades but always feeling an outsider there, dissatisfied with the shallow values of her fellow-students with their endless talk of sex and beer. She wants more, much more from life, but what is it? she wonders.

The answer comes when she meets Iqbal, a handsome, soccer-playing undergraduate from the Muslim quarter of Mumbai. Ikbal is an angry young man, resentful of the brutal attacks on his people by the Hindu majority in Mumbai. His feelings are further inflamed by the racism he encounters in the USA, police harassment as well. To spell out all of the things that happen when Kathleen marries Iqbal would be to give away too much. Suffice to say that the disillusioned couple are more and more drawn to militant Islam, the allure of jihad. Their absolutism is such that they can only see the world in black and white: Islam good, Judeo-Christianity evil. Iqbal’s hatred of the Hindus is swept under the rug. So is any thought of the inhuman things being done in the name of Allah today. (Graf doesn’t confront this moral failing either).

All American Girl has its weaknesses as a play, but there is no disputing its relevance and power. And when you add Marks’s tour-de-force performance to the mix, you’ve got a production that can rightly be called memorable.

Cast: 
Annika Marks or Jeanne Syquia
Technical: 
Set: Joel Daavid; Lighting: Carol Doehring; Sound/Music: Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski; Costumes: Amanda Antunes
Critic: 
Willard Manus
Date Reviewed: 
July 2015