Second Stage Theatre
New York, (212) 246-4422
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It may be possible to write a comedy about suicide bombers, said Robert Feldberg in the Bergen County, N.J., Record. But to do it, “you’d need an author a lot more skilled and thoughtful than Jon Kern.” The subtitle of Kern’s new play, Or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them, not so subtly hints that he aspires to the satirical heights of Dr. Strangelove. What we get instead is “the equivalent of a goofball movie.” From the beginning, when ringleader Qala (William Jackson Harper) is adjusting a bomb in the briefs of Rahim (Utkarsh Ambudkar), setting off a barrage of crotch jokes, it’s clear that “we are in the world of juvenile gross-out humor so dear to Hollywood”—and so far from meaningful satire.
Look closer, said Marilyn Stasio in Variety. Kern is actually “saying something quite serious about the innocent enthusiasms of youthful idiots” and how they can be misdirected. Embedding this message in a farce invites audience members to feel shocked by their laughter. “Sly cultural digs” abound, as when a mutual love of Star Wars creates a bond between Rahim and fellow plotter Yalda (Nitya Vidyasagar). The engine of the farce, though, is in the friendship between Rahim and his stoner neighbor—a “dazzling” Steven Boyer. Eventually, Boyer’s ignorant slacker “turns into something scarier.” He becomes an ignorant slacker willing to join the terrorist cause.
To the degree that Modern Terrorism does send off sparks, it’s because of the excellent cast, said Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. The idea of an amiable terrorist may be hard to swallow, but Ambudkar “delivers a warm performance that makes us see why Yalda might grow fond of him,” while Vidyasagar “radiates a dark fanaticism.” In the end, though, the whole affair is too cheerily sitcom-like to achieve the “sucker-punch shock” that Kern is aiming for. The world would be a much nicer place if “all the would-be evildoers crawling the globe were as amusing and incompetent.” Unfortunately, they aren’t.
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