2016 is a Presidential Election year and hopefully we will have more intelligent, thought-provoking political plays still to view like the current The City of Conversation at The Wallis in Beverly Hills and the World Premiere of The Engine of Our Ruin, newly opened at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank. While City looked back on three recent eras of American history that foreshadowed today’s deep political divide between Liberalism and Conservatism, Jason Wells’ Engine is a comedy of errors, manners and language set in today’s unstable political arena.
The setting is a luxury hotel suite in an unnamed Middle Eastern Country and the time is the Present. Charles (Tim Ryan Meinelschmidt), representing a U.S. Think Tank, is trying to negotiate a deal with Haroun (Brian Abraham), minister to an oppressive dictatorship. Assisting Charles are his aides, the crisp, business-like Nia (Shannon McManus) and the likable but inept gofer Seth (Gregory Hoyt). The efficient but somewhat mysterious Shane (Spencer Rowe) is providing security for the meeting. Haroun has brought along his own assistant Majid (Ryan P. Shrime) who thinks he speaks and understands English better than he actually does. Therefore an interpreter Razi (Zehra Fazal), working for both sides, is also present. Haroun is desperate to get corn for his starving nation while Charles is desperate to get any kind of concession on the dictator’s military plans. But Razi has her own agenda and when Majid leaves the room she intimates that Haroun wants the U.S. to champion women’s rights and build a school of Law and Engineering for girls in her oppressed country. This leads to escalating confusion and threats and diplomatic mayhem.
Adding to the fun are Boris (Steve Hofvendahl), a shady U.S. government representative whose double talk would put any political analyst’s head in a spin, and party girl reporter Jessica (Kimberly Alexander), who arrives on the scene as Shane’s late night bar pick-up but stays to stir the pot boiling shenanigans. This duo steals their scenes and provides the bulk of the laughs. The rest of the cast believably inhabit their characters under Maria Gobetti’s assured and steady direction. Evan Bartoletti designed the spiffy hotel room with a hint of Arabian Nights fantasy.
The Engine of Our Ruin provides plenty of laughs but also offers some chewy nuggets of political give-and-take to savor. One wrong word, one wrong inflection can lead to crisis in our volatile modern world. I’m sure the nuances of the diplomatic negotiations would be lost on the current presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, but he would probably revel in the nonsensical double talk espoused by Boris.
The Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd. in Burbank. Ends August 26. www.thevictorytheatrecenter.com