The extraordinary thing about theater is the incredible range of creative expression. The need for humans to give and receive stories is as old as civilization and as new as the latest methods for delivery. Thirdwing, launched in 2020 by Cameron Darwin Bossert, is a hybrid entertainment company that combines theater on a stage with digital streaming of a fully realized production with actors, sets and costumes. It is the “real deal” and not a virtually staged performance.
United Nations: The Other West, written and directed by Bossert, is an outstanding example of the hybrid theatrical system he has created. This production is an extension of his 2022 United Nations: The Border and The Coast with connections to stories streamed on Thirdwing’s internet platform. This form of theatrical production aims to bridge theater and film in a way that tells important stories that pierce the limitations of traditional theater and allow for a more expansive exploration of characters and themes. Bossert’s direction of an exceptional ensemble delivers an entertaining evening of theatre with humor and important ideas. This is not derivative of any other production; it stands alone as a play worth seeing.
The story is set in the UN Headquarters in New York City. The audience is somewhat introduced to the story’s thrust when Rudolph Schmid (Matthew Sanders), the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, introduces the name Burkina Faso, a small African country. This masterful introduction is solidly made by Sanders, who also introduces a key player in the story. He and the other ensemble members deliver comedic and satirical commentary that is funny and thought-provoking.
Schmid encounters Charles Kebre (Wesli Spencer), the newly arrived Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso, in a corridor in the UN Secretariat building. Spencer’s characterization presents a believable character with one exception: the accent he affects impacts the clarity of some of the dialogue. As with British and Irish accents, it takes some time for a listener to become comfortable with his accent.
What follows in this encounter is a well-executed introduction to not only the personalities of the characters but also to the wordplay involved in foreign diplomacy. Each man tries to be friendly within a person-to-person encounter while subtly interjecting political comments. It is an example of the word games of international relations.
CHARLES: I am not kidding when I say it is quite a treat to finally make the official acquaintance of all the people who have been denouncing my government for the last seven months.
RUDOLPH: I—I must say I do understand your take on all the words that have been said.
CHARLES: My take?
RUDOLPH: Well, yes.
CHARLES: That you categorically condemn the actions of our leadership.
RUDOLPH: We did not condemn. We said “deplore.”
CHARLES: Thank you for clarifying. So, you categorically deplored our actions.
RUDOLPH: “Categorically!” You see? It’s “categorically,” not personally. That’s why we say “categorically,” because there are certain things that must be said, because it is in a category.
As the mix of social and diplomatic conversation continues, Agata Orlov (Velena Shmulenson) enters the scene. She is the Permanent Representative of Russia and, after being introduced to Kabre, makes some politically tinged comments about Burkina Faso’s recent coup and how Russia has helped the new government with food aid. This character presents a solid counterpoint to Schmid’s pleasant diplomatic accommodations of language. Orlov tends to be direct and blunt in her comments, even in purely social conversation. Shmulenson perfectly brings out the “by the books” view of Orlov while giving hints of her underlying humanity.
At this point in the opening scene, Linda Gerald (Siobhan Crystal), the representative from the UN Protocol and Liaison Service, enters and immediately engages with Kabre. She was assigned to guide his orientation as a new representative to the physical layout of the UN Headquarters and coordinate various public relations activities. She has been with him for the previous several days. Crystal gives a letter-perfect presentation of a young staff functionary, typically ignored by diplomats of the UN, precisely doing what she is told to do without making judgments about those actions until events near the end of the play reveal a very different person.
As all of the characters go their separate ways after this initial encounter, more of their personalities are revealed in different interactions until an event that triggers a building and area lockdown occurs. All the characters end up together in a corridor outside a small, closed UN cafeteria. At this point, all preceding explication and character development of Bossert’s play comes to full flower. It is where all the implied and revealed elements of the characters’ personalities and behaviors come into full play as the stress of the lockdown plays on their emotional and physical well-being.
The set design by Ella Schol is an upstage wall and side curtains with two chairs in the upstage center. The simplicity of the set makes the lighting design critical to guiding the scene changes and action. Clayton Mack’s lighting direction is effective. The costume design by Yolanda Balanã works well in supporting the definition of the characters. The music is provided from an original score by Deeba Montazeri and works seamlessly with the other production elements.
The United Nations: The Other West (through December 10, 2023)
Third Wing, in association with Out of The Box Theatrics
154 on Christopher, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan, NY
For tickets, visit http://www.thirdwing.info
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission