The Internationalist

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  • The Internationalist
  • By Anne Washburn
  • Directed by Kirk Jackson
  • Produced by Studio Theatre
  • Reviewed by Steven McKnight

Sometimes I go to the theatre for a play that I hope will make me think, while other times I am looking for a good laugh.  Studio Theatre’s production of The Internationalist is a rare treat, a comedy that does both.  

Our protagonist Lowell (Tyler Pierce) is a young American business professional who travels to an unidentified Eastern European county.  In an hilarious opening sequence, the cast transforms him into a disheveled victim of a sixteen hour trip (including a five hour layover in Istanbul). 

In another generation, Lowell might have been tagged as an Ugly American,a man who is ignorant of foreign language and customs, who is sent, nonetheless, to help the backward locals in a far-flung corporate office.  Because Lowell is boy band cute and frequently baffled, however, we instantly empathize with him as he optimistically looks forward to a weeklong foreign adventure. 

He is met at the airport by his “colleague” Sara (Tonya Beckman Ross), a sweet and witty young woman whom he initially confuses as a limousine driver.  Sara helps introduce Lowell to this strange land, which features an incomprehensible language and some intimidating local liquor concoctions.  Their initial flirtation appears to signal the start of a promising new relationship.    

Lowell’s confusion grows when he arrives at the office the next morning.  First, his colleagues switch from their vaguely plausible yet comical language into English for the benefit of Lowell (and the audience), but their fluency varies, especially when it comes to slang idioms. 

In addition, the lovely Sara turns out to be a lowly file clerk who may have an agenda of her own, some files go missing, some vague business crisis hits, and Lowell’s relationship with Sara undergoes some twists and turns.

The limited plot is almost beside the point.  The play is a funny meditation on the problems of communication and understanding.  As Sara opines at her first meeting with Lowell, “People are always more appealing when they’re unintelligible.”  The most touching moment of the evening comes when Sara can only by honest with Lowell about her dark truth by telling it to Lowell in a language she knows he cannot understand.  However, her sad emotional near breakdown speaks volumes. 

The playwright throws in a few cultural jabs at America (in that land, for instance, people don’t fall through the cracks of the healthcare system) but this work is personal, not political.  On a personal level, Tyler Pierce provides depth to an endearing young man who seems adrift, and Tonya Beckman Ross gives a touching performance as a young woman with a mysterious past and dreams for the future.

The production gets wonderful support from the remainder of the talented cast (Holly Twyford, Cameron McNary, Jason Lott, and James Konicek).  Their speech in foreign dialect is both expressive and convincing and they effectively portray distinct office characters (two in the case of the entertaining Mr. Konicek). 

Kirk Jackson’s direction helps keep this play moving along in a clever and authentic manner. Debra Booth’s sleek and minimal production design helps keep the attention focused on the cast.  Although it seems like the “fish out of water” story would get old, you won’t believe two hours have passed when the play ends. 

The playwright deliberately refuses to tie the story up neatly.  Maybe the final message is that some distances are hard to close due to gaps in communication or personal understanding, but we must plow along in life anyway. 

  • Running Time:  2:00 with one intermission.
  • Where: Milton Theatre within Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW.
  • When: Tuesdays through Sundays until June 22.  Sunday shows are at 7. All other evening shows are at 8. There are Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2.
  • Tickets: $34-$57. For tickets, call 202.332.3300 or go to the website for further information.  

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