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LA Theater Review

Influence

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In an era where something akin to street fighting has supplanted the "art of the possible" when it comes to political maneuvering, playwright Shem Bitterman's world premiere offers damning insight into a world where no one emerges unbloodied or, for that matter, truly victorious. Clearly paralleling the downfall of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, who was forced to resign in light of a romantically based ethics scandal in 2007, Bitterman's script displays acumen for sharp-tongued, rapid-fire dialogue. Director Steve Zuckerman and his talented cast of six clearly relish the machinations in Bitterman's story of bureaucratic backstabbing.

Branden (Ian Lockhart), a newbie at the World Bank suddenly plucked from his cubicle-dwelling obscurity, is inexplicably elevated to the right-hand position of the nameless Director (Alan Rosenberg). Recognizing that he's the linchpin in a power struggle between the Director and a Swedish underling (Christopher Curry), Branden finds that his idealism and principles are tested at every turn. His home life offers no respite, as his fiancée (Kate Siegel), rabidly liberal in her leanings, refuses to acknowledge the possibility for compromise on virtually any subject. Rounding out this cast of characters are the Director's recently reassigned bedfellow (Eve Gordon) and his wily undersecretary (Robert Cicchini).

Lockhart masterfully handles Branden's growing realization that he is in a no-win situation. His diplomatic apprehension while dealing with his superiors gives way to explosive scenes with Siegel as their characters' relationship, complicated by an unplanned pregnancy, suffers under the weight of his job. Rosenberg, at the top of his game here, fleshes out a paranoiac to rival the best of Shakespeare's tragic characters, ever driving the piece forward like a runaway train. Curry and Gordon, likewise, are excellent in their supporting roles. But Cicchini nearly walks away with this show as his smarmy, conniving, cajoling, almost reptilian puppet master pulls everyone's strings while he insulates himself from the fallout.

Set designer Jeff McLaughlin provides an eye-pleasing maze of monochromatic, large-scale mockups of various Washington landmarks. Roger Bellon's original musical compositions build suspense during the countless choreographed scene changes, which Zuckerman's uncredited crew handles effortlessly.

Presented by the Katselas Theatre Company at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 Vermont Ave., L.A. March 6–May 9. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (310) 358-9936. www.katselastheatre.org. 


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