Thanks to an anonymous Angel, Theatre West, the long running playhouse theatre collective on Cahuenga lives. The dampanic and hard times have taken a toll on us in a myriad of ways. Art survives.
Mark Wilding's World Premiere "Our Man in Santiago," is a stinging indictment, with laughs, of republican foreign policy. Jeff G. Reck's wide and imaginative stage design has been up and ready for over a year. Keeping a show alive for such a long time is no mean feat, but the hearty gang on Cahuenga has succeeded.
Preshow compliments are in order: Friendly members of Theatre West greet us, vet our health, make sure we are hydrated, guide us to our seats, start the show almost on time. It's a total experience.
Nick McDow Musleh plays Baker, a miscast CIA agent fresh from his "tough" assignment in New Zealand, where he was never in danger, never learned Spanish and leaned on his Comp Lit degree to succeed. How he was transferred to Santiago, Chile (CheeLay) to aid in the overthrough of Salvador Allende (uncredited in the program) thanks to Richard Milhouse Nixon shows us that fuckups are probably SOP, especially when a republican cheater is in charge.
Baker, at rise, stands in a pin spot to testify before a Senate committee post Allende coup and we then flash back to 1973 on the threshold of the military coup in Santiago. The swank Cararra Hotel sits directly across from Allende's Presidential Palace in Santiago. So unfolds the twisted tale of American meddling in a foreign country where.. doggone it, the Pepsi Bottling Company is about to be nationalized by Allende. Nixon is a Pepsi guy. Baker likes Coca Cola. So do I.
Melding the ridiculous with the sordid facts of what happened in Chile in '73 simply works... for the most part. The stage at Theatre West is wide. Charlie Mount's staging .. maybe for safety from the dreaded Covid? turns the audience into spectators at a tennis match where the strokes are sometimes long, high lobs. The pace suffers. Opportunities for movement are lacking. Acting styles are divergent. George Tovar as Jack, the seasoned and rightfully paranoid CIA agent, swaggers in and blusters about as he pours Cuba Librés preparing to send Baker to his doom. Baker is unaware of the plot against him.
Who is the gorgeous maid, Maria (Presciliana Esparolini), whose basic English and curtsies may be those of a Mata Hari? Jack wants to know. Leave no toilet paper unfurled.
Presciliana Esparolini, George Tovar, Nick McDow Musleh
Photo by Charlie Mount
The clever device of long distance orders direct from the White House, with Kissinger's (Michael Van Duzer) feet propped up on Nixon's (Steve Nevil) desk, as the merits of Coke and Pepsi are debated, as well as the burgeoning coup by Pinochet and the Chilean army, create some semblance of ironically imagined truth.
Charlie Mount's direction, keeping our heads swiveling back and forth, with the imagined situation and the foreshadowing of times to come returns us, at last, back to the post coup times. Baker has survived his trial by fire, emerging bloodied but unbowed.. more or less. Mostly more.
Greeted by enthusiastic Theatre West members with their own brand of protocols is a pleasure. Parking is a minor issue, but close by. This fully professional offering deserves attention. The pleasure of sitting in an audience and sharing the laughter is worth the price of admission. Theatre West lives and it' is this long standing company's dedication to the work that matters. Did Chile survive the Pinochet regime? Was Allende such a bad guy? Are CIA agents arrogant fools? Does God make Little Green Apples? Answers to these questions.. well, possibly, except for the apples part. I just made that up.. may be revealed with laughs at Theatre West.
OUR MAN IN SANTIAGO
by Mark Wilding
September 24 until October 24, 2021
3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West
Los Angeles, CA 90068
Tickets and Information:
326 851 7977
(Located between Barham and Lankershim - north of the Hollywood Bowl and south of Ventura Blvd. in Studio City - across the 101 freeway from Universal Studios)