WHEATFIELD COUNTY, Kansas. July 19, 2017.
Initial thoughts: Pretty tasteless. Lacked class.
Having said that, the art direction and stagecraft were bar none for neighborhood theater; especially for a children’s production.
*A special note of praise is offered to Oak Day School’s third grade class for their skillful, finger-painted rendition of the ISIS’ flag, and another to Toys World on Third Street for their generous donation of Fisher Price vehicles used as stand ins for ISIS’s Toyota pickups.*
On Wednesday, the local neighborhood theater featured the premiere of “ISIS: A Play!” Ron Fines, the owner and operator of the local theater, selected his actors from a pool of students from the town’s elementary, middle and high schools making it a true blue Wheatfield County production.
Critics and members of the PTA objected to the subject matter, highlighting its “offensive nature” and saying it may be “too soon”, pointing to the fact that it just recently became acceptable to put on 9/11 and Al Qaeda based theater. But Fines said that due to lack of funding for the arts, coupled with the “inexpensiveness of bed sheets and leftover hair from local barbershops” commissioning ‘ISIS: A Play!’ was the obvious choice. The reviews, thus far, have been mixed.
Although the subject matter wasn’t particularly progressive, the casting was. Emily Hurtzwick, a 5th grader at local elementary school, Oak Day School, was cast in the lead role of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS. Hurtzwick masterfully (and adorably) plays Baghdadi as he goes from radical young Jihadi, to mullah, to leader of a self-declared caliphate. Hurtzwick told us that she drew from her own pained coming of age story with character forming experiences like “mean boys” and “an unending string of dead pet fish.” She used these traumas to harness the emotional depth needed for the role of the troubled Baghdadi. However, the performances by the supporting cast fell flat and seemed uninspired, with high schoolers breaking character in the middle of a stoning scene to make marijuana-based jokes.
True to ISIS form, the performance was full of gimmicks and self promotion. In one instance, Infidel #2 was beheaded and his prosthetic head was used on stage as a soccer ball: A shameless plug by the play’s choreographer and local high school soccer coach, Mark Mittlen, as hype for their upcoming season opener against Heritage High (Go Sharks!).
Overall, 10/10 would not recommend, but still worth the price of admission to see Midwestern kids assuming Sharia Law.