Mark Wilding’s Our Man in Santiago is billed as a “raucous political farce” but it is neither loud and noisy nor hilariously funny. Inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 1974 article in Harper’s Magazine concerning the CIA involvement in the death of democratically elected President Salvador Allende, the play supposes that the CIA had operatives in Santiago ready to kill Allende when General Pinochet launched his coup that took out Allende’s government and democracy in Chile for the next 16 years. While Charlie Mount, who also directed LA’s Theater West production in 2021, keeps the play bubbling along, the one-dimensional characters and the lack of real farcical stage business diminish the play to an overly long attempt at satire.
While it is known that the Nixon Administration was violently opposed to Socialist President Allende, the first elected Marxist in Latin America, it has never been confirmed how far the CIA went in meddling in Chilean affairs. The play begins with a Senate investigation into the CIA’s handling of the Allende affair and then flashes back to Santiago’s Carrera Hotel on Sept.11, 1973, the day when Allende died. Novice CIA operative Daniel Baker, a former academic, has been assigned in error to station manager Jack Wilson, a five year veteran of Santiago, to help in the Chilean uprising by the army against the Socialist government of Allende. The problem is that Daniel does not know Spanish, has never used a gun and did not join the CIA to subvert democracy but to help take out bad people, none of which will be of use in his new job.
The jaded Jack is obviously not telling Daniel the truth when he sends him to see Allende at the presidential palace across from the hotel nor is maid Maria Troncoso all that she appears to be. When Daniel overhears Jack and Maria plotting, he decides to teach them a lesson and get his revenge. President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger make a few appearances via telephone and a inset of the Oval Office which appears occasionally when the back wall of the hotel suite slides away. The humor is extremely arch and the jokes rather lame. The satire of political shenanigans has been seen once too often as is the parody of Nixon and Kissinger. The title of course, is in homage to Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, a much more pungent political satire.
All five the actors were members of the Los Angeles production. While they bring their roles to life, they remain the same throughout which diminishes the dramatic possibilities of the plot. As Station Manager Jack Wilson, George Tovar is very wry in attempting to establish his wearied approach to life in Santiago as well as the vagaries of working for the CIA. As the novice and idealistic Daniel Baker, Nick McDow Musleh is suitably naïve and inexperienced but never seems to learn from his adventures.
While Presciliana Esparolini as the Chilean maid out to forward her own career gets a great deal of mileage out of Maria’s fractured English as well as the two sides to her personality, she does not add anything new to this clichéd role. In brief appearances as Nixon and Kissinger are Steve Nevil and Michael Van Duzer, respectively, who perform good-natured takes on these easily and often parodied politicians.
Jeff G. Rack has designed an attractive and colorful setting for the hotel suite with a Maurice Utrillo-like painting center stage over the brown leather sofa with green pillows which match the painted woodwork, and three doors needed by farce for the balcony, closet and front door. However, while the play does not make much use of these doors, the hallway to the bedroom and bathroom is not onstage but the side aisle of the theater, missing out on one of the tenets of farce to have multiple mix ups behind a great many doors.
The costumes by Mylette Nora are standard issue business suits, aside from Maria’s yellow maid’s uniform and Jack’s white tropical attire. Charlie Mount’s lighting and sound design (with its bomb blasts and gun shots) for the New York production is all that is needed. Unfortunately television writer and producer Mark Wilding has not written a story that is startlingly new to keep his play from seeming talky and not very funny although the actors behave as though what they are saying is fresh and clever.
Our Man in Santiago (through October 28, 2022)
AMT Theater, 354 W. 45th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.OurManInSantiago.com
Running time: one hour and 55 minutes without an intermission