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Theater review: ‘Influence’ at the Skylight Theatre

March 11, 2010 |  9:00 pm

400.INF_0098presscopy The third and final play in Shem Bitterman’s war trilogy, “Influence,” a world premiere presented by Katselas Theatre Company at the Skylight, is no “Hurt Locker.”

Don’t expect front-line carnage in the play. Bitterman uses the World Bank – more specifically, Paul Wolfowitz’s embattled tenure as director of that institution –  to frame a sweeping satire of the global economic pressures leading up to the conflict.

Crisply funny Alan Rosenberg, who even somewhat resembles Wolfowitz, plays the World Bank’s deliberately nameless Director, a wheeling, dealing “devil” who is under fire from his associate, Rolf (Christopher Curry), for his plans to open a World Bank branch in Iraq. The Director enlists a brilliant young underling, Branden (Ian Lockhart), to help push through his agenda, much to the horror of Branden’s volatile, arch-leftist fiancée, Sally (Kate Siegel). And after Branden serves his purpose, he can also double as a convenient scapegoat.

Manipulation is the name of this game, from the Director’s soulless secretary, Marty (snappy comical Robert Cicchini) to Rolf, a humanitarian who can dirty deal with the best of them. It’s telling – and typical – that the Director is finally undone by his inappropriate liaison with Carmen (Cameron Meyer), a former staffer whom he showered with lucrative perks -- a scandal that mirrors Wolfowitz’s own downfall.

Sometimes, Bitterman’s internecine politics are so abstruse, they should be accompanied by Wikipedia supertitles. Yet director Steve Zuckerman’s staccato, Mamet-esque pacing keeps things lively, and his actors attack their material like junkyard dogs set loose in a meat packing plant. Simultaneously charming and repugnant, Bitterman’s characters are so daringly dislikable, you have to love them.

– F. Kathleen Foley

“Influence,” Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 4. $25. (310) 358-9936. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Photo: Alan Rosenberg. Photo credit: Ed Krieger