Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Not My Mother’s Oklahoma!

Written by: on October 25, 2023

My husband and I love going to the theater. Every year for our anniversary, we get season tickets. Last year, I was so excited to see Oklahoma! On the roster. I remember watching the movie of this musical growing up. I loved the fun, upbeat songs and cheerful melodies. We arrived at the theater for an evening of fun entertainment. We were not prepared for what came next. If you have not seen Oklahoma!, the Playbill synopsis is,

SYNOPSIS: A confident cowboy competes with a surly, mysterious farmhand for the honor of taking a lovely young farm woman to a dance in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical adaptation of Green Grow the Lilacs.[1]

The new revival of Oklahoma! did not change the script of the original, but the staging of this production changes it into something completely unexpected. Entertainment Weekly describes it as follows:

Oklahoma has always had this dark underbelly in its tale of frontier violence, rejection of the “other,” and uneasy marriage negotiations — but very few productions are willing to cede the floor to it. That’s what makes Fish’s revival truly revelatory, his ability to plumb the depths of a musical that has long been whitewashed and revered as a piece of Americana, rather than understood as a critique of it.[2]

It was utterly shocking and raw. I had always thought of this musical as a romantic love story. Daniel Fish’s staging reminded me of reading Sway last Spring. I left the theater thinking about my own unconscious bias. Pragya Agarwal wrote, “people are not just favourably inclined towards people who are the same as them (in-group favouritism or familiarity and confirmation bias) but also often actively biased against those who are outside their group (out-group derogation).” [3]

I think this restaging of a classic musical depicts what Postmodernism is as described by Stephen R. C. Hicks in Explaining Postmodernism. He writes”

Modern debates were over truth and reality, reason and experience, justice and peace, beauty and progress. In the postmodern framework, those concepts always appear in quotation marks. Our most strident voices tells us that “Truth” is a myth. “Reason” is a white male Eurocentric construct. “Equality” is a mask for oppressions. “Peace” and “Progress” are met with cynical and weary reminders of power – or explicit ad hominem attacks.[4]

In an article included at the end of the book, Hicks describes the movement from modernism to postmodernism in art. One aspect of postmodernist art he describes is the expectation of social justice claims. Art is postmodern, “as long as they are narrower race/class/gender statements rather than pretentious universalist claims about something called The Human Condition.”[5] There is a negativity inherent in the art of postmodernism.

As a piece of art, this production of Oklahoma! fits into Hicks’ depiction of postmodern art. One theater critic stated, “Daniel Fish’s production examines this 20th century classic from a 21st century perspective.[6] Fish brings the story into a 21st century perspective. He demands that the audience face their preconceived notions of the characters. One aspect of postmodern art is confronting the truth of the world in stark terms. Hicks states, “Postmodernism has become an increasingly narrow set of variations upon a narrow modernist set of themes” and that in modern art, “Art must be a quest for truth, however brutal, and not beauty.”[7]

Not everyone who came to see this production was able to handle the changes. Several people left the theater at intermission and I heard more complaining after the performance. On one hand, I can understand. This production was not at all what I was expecting. However, I also feel like it shows a lack of willingness to confront the dark undertones of the story. In this postmodern world, we must be willing to confront our bias, face our prejudice, and address the inequity of society. Although this was not the production, I expected to see that night, I am grateful for the mirror it provided me.

[1] https://playbill.com/production/oklahoma-circle-in-the-square-theatre-2018-2019

[2] https://ew.com/theater/theater-reviews/oklahoma-sexy-revival-loses-provocative-edge-on-tour-review/

[3] Pragya Agarwal, Sway: Unraveling Unconscious Bias. (London, Bloomsbury Sigma, 2020), pg. 99.

[4] Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. (Redland Bay QLD: Connor Court Publishing, 2019), 20.

[5] Hicks, 260.

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57ogqHMGRLg

[7] Hicks, 248 & 250.

About the Author


Becca Hald

Becca is an ordained Foursquare minister, serving as the Online Community Pastor at Shepherd's House Church. She has over twenty-five years of leadership experience both inside and outside the church. Becca has served her community in many capacities ranging from Administrative Assistant and Children’s Ministry Director to Secretary and President of multiple school organizations. She and her husband, Andrew have been married for over 25 years. They have two adult children, Drew and Evelyn. Her great passion is to equip others, to raise awareness about mental health, and to help reduce the negative stigma surrounding mental health issues. In her free time, she loves going to Disneyland, reading, sewing, and making cards.

6 responses to “Not My Mother’s Oklahoma!”

  1. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Becca, Wow, what a fascinating production of Oklahoma. I like how you handled the very different presentation and allowed yourself to be open to learning from it. I’m intrigued and curious to see it myself. I especially like this quote of yours: “Although this was not the production, I expected to see that night, I am grateful for the mirror it provided me.” I wonder how many true mirrors we allow ourselves to encounter in life. It seems like sometimes it’s just the ones that catch us off guard that we engage with, because we work pretty hard avoiding such confrontations in our everyday lives.

    So appreciated your post! Thank you.

    • mm Becca Hald says:

      Thank you Jenny. It was certainly a mirror which caught me off guard!
      “I wonder how many true mirrors we allow ourselves to encounter in life.”
      Such a great question/observation. It brings to mind two Bible verses:

      “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

      “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” James 1:23-24

      As Christians, we are called to this kind of self reflection, but as you observed, how often do we actually engage?

  2. Alana Hayes says:

    Oklahoma was one of Ben and I’s first dates!

    I appreciate the way that this program allows us to reach in deep to our unconscious bias and process it safely together!

  3. mm Jennifer Eckert says:

    Hi Becca. This post caught my eye because I live in Oklahoma and saw the same production you wrote about. Even though I am a creative-minded person, I struggled with the new rendition of the performance. Perhaps it was a bit more like the truth hurts, but the ending completely caught me off guard when a shooting was reenacted, complete with blood splatters. It was a trauma trigger for me.

    • mm Becca Hald says:

      Thank you for sharing Jennifer. It caught me completely off guard as well. I cannot imagine what the cast must go through, doing that night after night. I must admit, as much as I found the production eye opening and thought provoking, I was ready for something with more “fluff” after seeing it! I was expecting the “Oklahoma” I grew up with, so I was not prepared for this rendition. I was okay after this particular production, but I can see how this show could be a trauma trigger. I remember seeing “Rent” several years ago. I was going through a rough time and had no idea what the musical was about. I ended up having a panic attack after it was over.

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