A more perfect play? Nope. Wendy Graf ‘nails it’ in All American Girl.
Simply said playwright Wendy Graf has created a conversation about today’s culture that keeps us asking questions and yet never actually enters the dialog with an opinion.
In All American Girl we are given a hypothetical story about the wife of the Boston Bomber, who in real life, under the hijab and abaya is basically a sheltered middle class girl raised in Rhode Island, who converts to Islam.
It is truly eery watching Katie transform before our eyes. We witness her in her young life as she faces childhood worries, disappointments and incidences that to us seem simple but to her are so extraordinary; things she sometimes doesn’t understand, which are never explained to her and which ultimately are never emotionally resolved.
These moments that Katie recalls marked by exact year, seem to be the gateway to her getting caught up in the life of a man she becomes infatuated with in college, then loves, then marries; a man who occasionally abuses her, a man who she assures is dedicated to her, a man she has a child by and (in Graf’s version of the Boston Bomber wife story) who she ultimately follows, supports and even initiates parts of a holy war with… till death where they part.
The issues that are constantly brought up in this play are ones we all face today. Right and wrong is not black and white. As Graf discusses in her notes, “One man’s activist could be another man’s terrorist”. Graf also poses the question, “Is violence and violent protest ever justified?”
Where is easy to take sides in Graf’s play with Katie as we witness the devolution of her life, sincerely fulfilled at first by her newfound Islamic values and lifestyle which she finds beautiful and honest, then facing the very real hardship of being her family’s sole provider, as her husband cannot find employment, and experiencing racism in a way she has never had to face, it is not easy to simply go along with her absolute radicalism. She becomes completely consumed by a single point of view.
Yes, injustice is happening all the time, the news indescribably horrific, children are being murdered, and on one occasion, right before her eyes. And while we can certainly feel Katie’s pain, experience the full horror for ourselves through her telling of it, empathize with her husbands plight of being an outsider in a foreign culture, being kept down, targeted and on more than one occasion sincerely dehumanized, she herself is never without a choice to step back from the violence. Instead, she flings herself headlong into it.
Jeanne Syquia plays an incredibly naive Katie who takes the audience by the hand like a small child, pulling us gently along her journey, at first very carefully and comprehensively rationalizing every decision. When she arrives at the point of no return, the audience has no choice but to step out and voyeuristically watch without involvement. Syquia displays a fanatically embittered woman caught on the other side of sense, about to commit the very deluded act she is protesting.
One gets the not-so-far-fetched feeling that we are somehow doomed to a never-ending cycle and that violence begets violence. But what would you do?
All American Girl is an extraordinary piece designed through simplicity and pure storytelling without effect. Phenomenal. Heartbreaking.
Written by Wendy Graf
Directed by Anita Khanzadian
Starring Annika Marks and Jeanne Syquia (alternating)
Produced by Alan Naggar
Presented by InterACT Theatre Company, Alan Naggar, producing director