‘Our Man in Santiago’

A funny play about the not-so-funny

| 21 Sep 2022 | 01:53

Mark Wilding spent 13 years in “Shondaland,” as it is called in Hollywood. That means he wrote for powerful executive Shonda Rhimes on her popular shows, including “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” And now he is in New York giving us a play that features very UN-Shondalike characters Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

Okay, they are not the stars of “Our Man in Santiago,” which has recently opened at the AMT Theater on West 45th St. But they are the powers behind a real-life former operation, and they make a couple of appearances. The main characters here are CIA agent Jack Wilson, and his protege Daniel Baker. The two bicker about poetry, Coke vs. Pepsi, and most important, the best way to overthrow the (then) president of Chile, Salvador Allende. The agents and their comrades enter that country pretending to be a glee club. The espionage might have worked – had it turned out the guys could actually carry a tune. Yes, this is a black comedy.

The show had a successful engagement in Los Angeles a few years ago. “A crackling good production of a smart, funny, thoughtful and surprising new play,” gushed one review. Wilding — who had penned one theatrical piece decades before his TV career — dreamt of seeing it done in New York, where it is now scheduled to run seven weeks.

The set was driven across country by a friend of the playwright’s son, and the original L.A. cast has made the move. Wilding is loving it all: the rehearsals and the collaboration with the actors. It’s not network television, but he says, “the structure is not all that different. It’s basically three acts with tension and resolution.”

Reminder of American Adventurism

It is also sadly relevant. Spies, double-crosses, intrigue and murder are all on the bill for this particular and even prescient reminder of American adventurism. “Ultimately,” the playwright says, “I hope this feels oddly current, with the U.S. still trying to intervene in and reinvent other countries. While spending billions of dollars and losing lives. We need to ask, was it really up to us to fix? But this is not a diatribe,” he insists.

So who does Wilding see as the audience for his man in Santiago? “I think the audience will be comedy and mystery fans,” he says, “and also for folks who follow politics.” With some tongue in cheek, he adds, “In fact, I see it as the feel-good story American needs right now.”

Michele Willens’ “Stage Right ... Or Not” can be heard weekly on Robinhoodradio.