It may be possible to satirize violent jihad against New York. Especially now, it is hard not to admire someone who tries. But "Modern Terrorism . . . ," with its subtitle evocations of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 masterwork, "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," aims too high and slugs too low.
How low? Somewhere between gang-who-can't-shoot-straight low and Stooges low. Despite excellent actors and direction by Peter DuBois that manages to sustain a believable emotional tone, Jon Kern's script just isn't big enough, or smart enough, or daring enough to take on a subject this profound.
Even the conflicts within each would-be terrorist have a sitcom glibness. Each of the three plotters makes a reference to the reasons he/she turned into avenging mass murders. Of course, they are all so sweet and, significantly, smitten with the silliest American pop culture that they are diminished and trivialized into characters we could imagine on network TV.
Utkarsh Ambudkar is heartbreakingly earnest as the suicide bomber, whose underwear fuse fails to ignite at the top of the Empire State Building. William Jackson Harper has lovely grandiosity as the African who gets bomb parts delivered by FedEx. Nitya Vidyasagar deftly plays contradictory passions as the war widow. Steven Boyer is spectacular as the stoner from upstairs, but it feels like cheating to like the American the most.
WHAT "Modern Terrorism, or They Who Want to Kill Us and How We Learn to Love Them"
WHERE Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St.
INFO $71.50-$79; 212-246-4422; 2st.com
BOTTOM LINE Aims high, slugs too low