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Nazi-fighting comedy, social commentary at The Empty Space

Don't let those how-to books fool you: There is no simple formula for creating original works. Having creative friends can make the difference, as "Girls Kill Nazis" playwright James Kopp learned a few years ago.

He had just finished a production of his play "Geeks vs. Zombies" in 2016 when collaborator and friend John Morrison told him he had the title for Kopp's next play.

Kopp wrote in an email: "I said, 'That's wonderful, what is it?' He said: 'Girls Kill Nazis,' and I said, 'What's that?' And he said, 'I don't know, but you should write it.'"

The finished product opens this weekend at The Empty Space in its second production and its first in Bakersfield.

"Girls Kill Nazis" lives up to the title, so don't expect mere allusions to violence.

"It's pretty graphic," Kopp wrote. "This is not 'Cats.' My plays are not really for younger audiences. I would say don't bring anyone under 16."

For the playwright, his favorite scenes are when the members of the Nancy Wake Book Club sit around and talk about books.

"Yes there is violence and killing, but I really like when our characters just sit down and talk. People sitting and talking about their feelings is the foundation for pretty much all theatre."

The aforementioned book club, named for the journalist turned French Resistance fighter, is in the town of Bisbee, Ariz., which in this play is, like the rest of the U.S., under the rule of the American Nazi party.

Club members Ruth (Claire Rock), Betty (Kate Gill), Diana (Maya Blackstone) and Sydney (Elizabeth Bomar) have banded together to eliminate those Nazis threatening their community, relying on the power of friendship and perseverance.

In developing this show, Kopp took inspiration from his wife, Jennifer Sorkin, whose experiences with sexism and harassment informed the narrative. (She also performed in the original production.)

"Talking to her and other female artists, it wasn't long to figure out what this story was going to be about."

Although he describes it as a comedy — and he wants people to laugh — Kopp said he wants to get people talking about real-life issues addressed in this alternate reality play.

"The subtext is about the white supremacy issue we are facing in America, and it's not subtle. It's been an issue we, as a country, have been ignoring for far too long. And it starts with us saying, 'Yes, this is a very real issue that is affecting everyone who isn't white, and we need to do better.'

"'Humans should be judged by their skills, their passion, and their sincerity, not on the color of their skin.' Which is a very old statement, but one sadly that we need to keep saying."

Directed by David Rock, the show also features Ed French, Janice Bondurant, Divyang Motavar, Morgan Roy, Jordan Fulmer, Nate Pugh, Emilia Reed, Everett Anderson and Mario Prudencio.

Along with his own show, Kopp encourages the community to support the local arts, whether it's theater, music or fine arts. 

"I'm from Bakersfield, and while this city gets a lot of teasing, and it's earned most of it. I would also say the amount of talented artists that have emerged from this city is jaw-dropping.

"People, I think to forget that all great artists start somewhere, and your friend, child, or neighbor might be the next great writer, painter, singer. A little support early on can make all the difference."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.

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