A CIA newbie with orders to remove the Chilean President walks into a bombed out palace. What could go wrong?
In Mark Wilding's delightful comedy Our Man in Santiago, loosely inspired by the Nixon Administration's failed attempt to remove the Chilean President, the answer is: everything. Daniel Baker (Nick McDow Musleh) has spent the last few years stationed in New Zealand, where feral cats eating local birds is the only threat he ever had to deal with. Now, he's been plunged into the middle of a Chilean coup and instructed to kill President Allende: a morally gray mission that chafes against his principles. He'd rather discuss Robert Frost, brush up on his non-existent Spanish, and chat up the hotel maid Maria (Presciliana Esparolini), than infiltrate a currently under-fire palace and shoot a democratically elected leader. But bowing out at this point is simply not an option. So, under the orders of his much more cynical supervisor Jack Wilson (George Tovar), he sets off to make President Nixon proud.
Speaking of which, Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger are the jewel in this play's comic crown. Almost the entire play takes place in a hotel room, amid the cries of revolting Chileans and the sound of explosions in the street below. But in a hilarious piece of stagecraft, the back wall of the hotel room slides away to reveal what looks like an official White House photograph: the tight-knuckled President bent over his desk, flanked by two flags and the indefatiguable Kissinger. It may look stately and serious, but the man at the center of it is anything but. Steve Nevil's hysterical, spot-on impression of Richard Nixon is among the highlights of the show, but Michael Van Duzer is equally uproarious as the German-born Kissinger. He hovers nearby, missing no opportunity to seize the phone--and the spotlight--much to Nixon's obvious annoyance. The way the two play off each other is a masterclass in comic acting.
Of course, I'd be remiss if I led you to believe that Nixon and Kissinger get the only laughs in the show. In this endlessly funny script, Wilding has left no comic vein untapped, and under the inspired direction of Charlie Mount, the cast is more than up to the task of milking every joke for all it's worth. While a few tonal discrepancies mar the humor from time to time, and a few scenes momentarily descend into cheesiness, most of the humor is right on the money. Inspired by a story so ridiculous it strains belief (yes, America really did send a glee club to try and overthrow the Chilean government), this political farce is an invitation to laugh at things we may be in danger of taking too seriously: the American administration, international politics, and the downfall of democracy--not to mention a spectacular CIA failure. As such, Our Man in Santiago is a freeing and riotously entertaining night at the theatre.
Written by Mark Wilding and directed by Charlie Mount, 'Our Man in Santiago' runs at AMT Theater (354 W 45th St) through October 28. For tickets and more info, see the link below: