A review of Theatre West’s “Our Man in Santiago,” written by Mark Wilding
directed by Charlie Mount, and running through October 24.
Mark Wilding’s “Our Man in Santiago” is based in part on a truth. In 1970, a farcical top secret plan was hatched by Nixon and Kissinger, to oust the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, as detailed in a memorable article published in Harper’s Magazine by Gabriel Garcia Marquez a few years later. The plan failed miserably. Apparently, choral singing wasn’t part of the Navy’s standard training at the time, blowing the cover of the 200 agents flying in to Chile, posing as a choral singing group on tour. You really can’t make this stuff up. It sounds like the plot of a Wes Anderson film.
The play begins a week or so after this debacle, in a hotel in Chile, when a bright young CIA agent arrives to his new posting, with little knowledge of why he was there, or what his assignment would be. Nixon hated socialists, and President Allende was a democratic socialist. So, he had to go. The agent, it turns out, is a patsy. His boss is using him to trying to maneuver his way into a promised new position as the deputy head of the CIA. In turn, Nixon is using him and, of course, everyone else that he can to further his maniacal agenda.
It all has the feel of a Cold War spy thriller, something from John Le Carre or even Graham Greene. But funny. This is a comic play. Although, to be fair, it could be played quite straight and be just as riveting. The comedy is in the ridiculous nature of espionage.
But, can we really call America’s rather obvious efforts to put their own puppets in place of duly elected leaders’ espionage? I’m not sure. Yet, either way, it makes for splendid comedy, even if at the expense of a nation.
“Our Man in Santiago” is wickedly brilliant. Full of dry asides and sweaty plots, and clumsy assumptions leading to dubious ends. It’s The Third Man in a country about as far from post-war Vienna as you can get. South America’s southern-most country in shambles, its people marching for food, its military boiling with discontent, ripe for one man’s sick opportunism and Nixon’s psychopathic ego.
The twists and turns are impressive and beautifully constructed, the performances absolute perfection. Set entirely in a hotel room, with occasional magically hilarious transportation to the Oval Office, with Nixon and Kissinger battling it out for who is the bigger ass. However, I won’t give away how that is done, it’s just too good.
Playwright Mark Wilding is a long-time member of Theatre West. He has worked in television for over two decades, writing and producing both comedies and dramas. He was most recently a writer and executive producer on the NBC/Netflix show “Good Girls.” Director Charlie Mount is also a long-time member of Theatre West, his own plays have been produced there, and he has directed plays there, including “Acting – The First Six Lessons” with Beau Bridges.
The cast of this play are absolutely superb. Gorgeous, outrageously hilarious performances from Steve Nevil as Richard Nixon and Michael Van Duzer as Henry Kissinger. Just brilliant! Presciliana Esparolini, Nick McDow Musleh and George Tovar are also excellent as the three agents trapped by their tangle of mixed purposes and their seemingly absolute lack of place. It’s their searing, competitive wrangling that gives us the center of this play and boy do they wrangle.
“Our Man in Santiago” is another brilliant political play from the artful Theatre West. We should all be thankful that they are still with us, able to create, support and produce work of this extraordinary complexity.
Presciliana Esparolini, Nick McDow Musleh and George Tovar, with Steve Nevil playing Richard Nixon and Michael Van Duzer as Henry Kissinger.
Set designer Jeff G. Rack, lighting designer Yancey Dunham, costume designer Mylette Nora, fight director Joe Nassi and gun captain Bruce Dickinson. David Mingrino is the production stage manager, and Chloe Rosenthal assistant directs. Benjamin Scuglia produces for Theatre West.
Running through October 24
Friday, Saturday 8pm, Sunday at 2pm
3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West
(between Barham and Lankershim)