The opening night of Our Man in Santiago at Theatre West last weekend was a double celebration. The world premiere show, shut down after only two performances in March 2020, relaunched for an enthusiastically appreciative audience. And Theatre West itself, Los Angeles’ oldest continuously operating theater (since 1967), announced it will continue in its space with a long-term lease.
Onstage to introduce Our Man’s delayed third performance, director Charlie Mount noted, “You’re looking at the longest-standing set in theater history.” That attractive and functional set, designed by Jeff G. Rack, was soon put to good use.
Our Man in Santiago, by veteran TV producer and writer Mark Wilding, is smart and funny, with memorable characters and a compelling plot. Turns out a botched coup can have a humorous side, even without a self-proclaimed shaman in face paint, fur vest and Viking helmet.
The coup in question is the CIA’s botched 1973 attempt to overthrow Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende. The plot’s misguided and feckless plotters, Richard Nixon (Steve Nevil) and Henry Kissinger (Michael Van Duzer), phone in from a cleverly inset Oval Office to give orders and plan their own accolades. Among the fascinating historical nuggets: When Allende was elected in 1970, Nixon immediately demanded a plan to get rid of him. The first executioners, masquerading as a 200-member glee club, had to be quickly shipped out of Chile when their lack of singing ability blew their cover.
Sent in, unwittingly, to do the deed is CIA operative Daniel Baker (Nick McDow Musleh), displaying range and comedic talent as he takes in the situation and figures out how to adapt and re-adapt. He reports to Jack Wilson (George Tovar), who prefers that Nixon and Kissinger see him as the hero. Presciliana Esparolini as hotel housekeeper Maria adds some glamor and depth to the story.
Playwright Wilding’s extensive experience with character development, plot twists and cliffhangers can be traced to his time on Scandal and other series. He’s crafted a satisfying tale and Theatre West has brought it all home.
Our Man in Santiago runs through Oct. 24 Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm. Running time is 100 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $15-30 and can be purchased here. Proof of vaccination and photo ID required for admission. Theatre West is located in the Cahuenga Pass, at 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. Parking in a lot across from the theater is $5; there is also metered street parking.