Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them

1/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Second Stage Theatre. By Jon Kern. Dir. Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
2/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Second Stage Theatre. By Jon Kern. Dir. Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
3/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Second Stage Theatre. By Jon Kern. Dir. Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
4/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Second Stage Theatre. By Jon Kern. Dir. Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
5/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Second Stage Theatre. By Jon Kern. Dir. Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
6/6
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Second Stage Theatre. By Jon Kern. Dir. Peter DuBois. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.
Second Stage Theatre, Hell's Kitchen Sunday November 4 2012 19:00

As Walt Kelly’s Pogo famously quipped: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Jon Kern is happy to make that introduction. In his violently funny and provocative black comedy Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them, the "us" and "them" are constantly in question. Holed up in a run-down apartment, a small group of Islamic radicals bumbles toward mass murder: Qala (William Jackson Harper), the band’s Somali leader, has recruited a Pakistani college student named Rahim (Utkarsh Ambudkar) for a suicide bombing; a Pakistani-American ally, Yalda (the expressive Nitya Vidyasagar), offers logistical support. Yet despite their cruel intent, Kern presents them in a familiar mode of “relatable” American comedy, and talk of martyrdom alternates with banter about iPods, FedEx tracking numbers and the boxers-versus-briefs debate. (Dim, sweet Rahim bones up on his target, the Empire State Building, by watching Sleepless in Seattle.)

The would-be terrorists are not so different, in fact, from their American neighbor, Jerome (Hand to God’s sprightly Steven Boyer), who stumbles into their plot. Beneath his disaffected-doper friendliness, Jerome even carries seeds of the same impulses that motivate them: alienation, revenge, a yearning for purpose and fame. As Kern explores these themes in the second act, the plot sometimes thickens into clumps, but Peter DuBois’s spot-on cast stays light on its feet amid the darkening themes. Kern, who writes for The Simpsons, is essentially giving a hard twist to situational comedy, and there will surely be some who find it glib. But the play’s style is not accidental; without apologizing for the terrorists, Kern complicates our relationship to “them” by framing them in a style usually reserved for “us.” (Rahim is inspired by Star Wars, which he adorably calls A New Hope, because pop mythology is fungible—anyone, with the right blinders on, can see themselves as noble rebels attacking the Empire.) Modern Terrorism is craftier than it may seem; it disarms the audience but sticks to its guns.—Adam Feldman

Venue name: Second Stage Theatre
Contact:
Address: 305 W 43rd St
New York

Cross street: at Eighth Ave
Transport: Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority
Price: $75