Gifted performer, but 'All American Girl' has simplistic worldview

Playwright Wendy Graf grapples with the reasons a young American woman would convert to Islamic radicalism in her world premiere solo show, “All American Girl,” an InterACT Theatre Company production at the Lounge Theatre.

Annika Marks, alternating with Jeanne Syquia, plays the extremely impressionable Katie, seen at various stages of her life from childhood to young womanhood.

Raised in comfortable circumstances in a sedate suburb, Katie has the kind of simplistic worldview that makes her a perfect candidate for impassioned extremism. When Katie marries Igbal, an Indian Muslim student she meets in college, she ardently embraces her husband’s culture, faith – and fatal disenchantment.

Smartly directed by Anita Khanzadian, Marks is a petite dynamo who plays multiple roles with great verve and an impressive ear for dialects. And certainly, at a time when violent jihadists are successfully recruiting disaffected men and women worldwide, Graf gets credit for sheer timeliness.

However, in attempting to shed light on the multifarious reasons behind the terrorist mind-set, Graf grossly overstates – or possibly understates – her case.

Exposing Katie’s trusted Christian pastor as a licentious hypocrite seems an overly familiar trope that is rudely dismissive of an entire religion. Then there's the scene in which Katie's near-relative – a little boy, no less – is killed in a marketplace bombing in India.

Graf intends that atrocity to further accelerate Katie’s descent into murderousness. Yet certainly, most American converts to radical Islam require no such justification for their behavior. In purely dramatic terms, the scene seems histrionic and strident, as indeed, does much of the play.

“All American Girl” succeeds primarily as a showcase for a gifted performer. However, Graf seldom takes us behind the scenes of Katie’s reductionist views into the arcane nooks and crannies of the terrorist mind – that crazed fun house landscape that defies logic and would have made for a far more fascinating journey.

“All American Girl,” Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends July 26. $30. (818) 765-8732. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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