We should start by saying that Chelsea Marcantel’s A White Girl’s Guide to International Terrorism has more than a few things going for it—compassion for human failure, a keen sense of how teenagers view time, and a lead role that allows for a superb, complex performance by Isabel Langen. When it stays within the confines of late adolescent portraiture, it soars in ways the old ABC After School specials sometimes caught the dangerous passageways between child and adult.
And of course we should add the grand belief of our age—that the Internet compounds the mistakes of adolescence a thousand times over. It’s an open question, but no less heartbreaking when young fools fall prey to online voices and slip into, say, terrorism. Especially when that young woman, cunningly named Blaze, is stuck in an economic wasteland while possessing a mind filled with fire and hope.
Now we should end by saying that A White Girl’s Guide suffers from the desire to say something significant, directly and forcefully, about the world. Without disputing the play’s critique of how the FBI prosecutes cases of domestic terrorism, we can safely say that Marcantel’s depiction is rather unconvincing. As the play becomes more and more about Blaze’s case rather than her flirtations with and embrace of terrorism, the drama turns flat and overwrought.
You sense more than a few of the tensions of contemporary American playwriting in White Girl’s Guide. Marcantel has the skill and focus to burrow into the psyche of a restless young woman, but she hasn’t the vision or scope to lift that depiction past a detailed character sketch. Sensing that her work needs more, she parrots true criticisms of law enforcement in ham-handed ways. Like terrorism, it’s a false path to significance.
There’s more to art than declaring your allegiance to the right side and Marcantel, after finding a worthy subject of our attention, misses a vaster, more terrifying world than a FBI sting and all the injustices that surround it.
‘A White Girl’s Guide To Terrorism’ runs through March 3 at the Creativity Theater in San Francisco. For tickets and information click here.Read More