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Our Man in Santiago

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - September 16, 2022

George Tovar, Presciliana Esparolini, and Nick McDow Musleh
Photo by Charlie Mount
It's spy vs spy vs spy in Mark Wilding's spoofy Our Man in Santiago, a loose-knit political farce that draws its inspiration from Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana," a novel that pokes fun at Britain's arguably bumbling intelligence service, and applies it to the CIA's arguably bumbling role in the 1973 overthrow of Chile's President Salvador Allende.

Opening tonight at AMT Theater, the production benefits from having aboard the director and the entire cast from its previous well-received presentation at Los Angeles's Theater West, even if does sometimes sag in the farce department and dated satire that takes us back to the good old days of the '70s and (who knew, right?) the wacky comedy stylings of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who are responsible for the show's biggest laughs.

Nick McDow Musleh plays Daniel Baker, a relatively inexperienced CIA operative who has been sent to Santiago to take on the risky assignment of ousting Allende, dead or alive, at the behest of President Nixon. Daniel has little skill in the art of espionage or in instigating coups, his previous post having been in New Zealand where he largely dealt with the threat of feral cats. He shows his ineptitude at every turn, a regular Barney Fife with a gun. In short, he is the perfect sacrificial lamb to work under the supervision of chief operative Jack Wilson (George Tovar), an intimidating bully who is content to put others in jeopardy while he stays safely behind. Add to the mix the seemingly innocent Maria (Presciliana Esparolini), a "maid" at the hotel where Baker and Wilson are staying, and you've got a perfect trio of untrustworthy collaborators, each with their own personal agenda and ambitions.

Esparolini is best at tossing off quick one-liners with great aplomb and presenting the kind of dry humor the play could use more of. When, for instance, Daniel asks her to come back later, say at 5 p.m. to clean the room, Maria responds: "Five is good. I will miss my only meal of the day, but it is worth it for you to have a new bar of soap." Even funnier, however, are the team of Nixon and Kissinger, played, respectively, by Steve Nevil and Michael Van Duzer. The pair put in a couple of inspired appearances when they call in from the Oval Office to check to see how things are going. Together, they display the timing of an Abbott and Costello or a Laurel and Hardy, a bickering but inseparable couple.

Everything brightens up when these two or Esparolini are at center. They have a way of grasping the rhythms of the play and of keeping things moving at a fever pitch. Perhaps director Charlie Mount intends the contrast, but when things slow down, as they often do in the interactions between the characters of Daniel and Jack, the humor sags. Farce favors perfect timing over clever dialog, and when that timing falters, so does the production.

Speaking of farce, Jeff G. Rack's set design, a sitting room in a suite in Santiago's stately Carrera Hotel circa 1973, offers up doors, a balcony, and a breakaway panel that are nicely in place for the many exits and entrances characteristic of the form. But here, except with the Oval Office scenes, they are underutilized. Charlie Mount, the director, provides the sound design, giving us the din of the assault on the Presidential Palace but neglecting street sounds coming from below or a well-placed thud of something falling from the balcony. Overall, there is plenty here to enjoy, so much so that the missteps disappoint.

Our Man in Santiago
Through October 28, 2022
AMT Theater
354 W 45th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: