‘Middle East Side Story’ is clever, thought provoking fun

Paul Boerger
The love interest in Middle East Side Story features Randi Busse as Holly and Ryan Farnsworth as Ali. Ali’s transformation to an all American boy is a sight to behold.

When you go to see Middle East Side Story, and you should, check your preconceived notions and prejudices at the door because this very fine production will take you places you will not guess in a million years.

Without revealing too many spoilers, the new musical comedy by the College of the Siskiyous Drama Club imagines that the war on terror is long over and a Middle Eastern family moves to the United States next door to a typical American family. But of course, there is nothing “typical” about either family.

With 15 entertaining original songs, high energy dance, very creative writing, and a professional level of acting and singing, the production pokes unrelenting fun at both cultures, while the plot’s twists and turns keep you wondering where in the heck they can possibly take the story next.

“Middle East Side Story,” created by the same Club that brought you last year’s well-regarded “Straight Camp,” is a comedy at its heart. The audience was chuckling, guffawing and enjoying outright belly laughs at the outrageous jokes and songs that cleverly tear both cultures apart. The age old story of boy meets girl is central to the theme, but when Middle East boy meets all American girl, craziness ensues as very different ways of life clash.

On its serious side, the production takes on forgiveness, reconciliation, the quest for peace, and the nature of prejudice.

Aaron Clemens, as the head of a bumbling group of “terrorists,” sings a song that is reminiscent of “You Have to be Carefully Taught” from the Broadway musical South Pacific. You are not born hating the other side; racism and misunderstanding are learned.

Whether intentional or not, the production is patriotic in that it extols the incredible diversity and freedom in America compared to other parts of the world.

Of course, all’s well that ends well, and how Middle East Story gets there is well worth the price of a ticket: enemies embrace and forgiveness reigns as history has always shown.

Who could have imagined in 1945 that German and American soldiers would be serving side-by-side, as they are in Afghanistan, or that Japan would be our staunchest Asian ally from whom we buy a vast variety of goods. Hard to believe, but Vietnam’s largest export trading partner is the United States. Somehow, in the end, forgiveness and reconciliation prevails.

As directors, writers, dancers, actors and singers, brothers Kale and Cory Coppin deserve special kudos for bringing Middle East Side Story to the stage from a book by Matthew McWilliams. Choreographer LeAnne Gosmeyer also gets major credit for taking 20 amateur cast members and guiding them through the process of learning complex dance numbers that are performed with wonderful enthusiasm.

Middle East Side Story plays Feb. 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 general admission and $5 for seniors and students. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 530-925-2455. The Kenneth Ford Theater is located at College of the Siskiyous at 800 College Ave. in Weed.