“I’ve told you everything and now you know too much, so I’m going to have to kill you.”
This, in a nutshell, is the plot of Shem Bitterman’s new play, “A Death in Colombia.” To tell more would be telling too much. But let’s give it a try.
The dynamic Roxanne Hart is Lisa, an ex-pat anthropologist living in Bogotá. Her husband, John, is a political activist who has been missing for three weeks. He has gone north to the headwaters of the Orinoco River to work with the U’wa people in an attempt to save the rain forest from being destroyed by predatory oil companies.
As she waits frantically for a phone call from John, Lisa is visited by Natalie (Sarah Foret), a young woman who is also waiting for word from John. She is John’s mistress, she tells Lisa, and she and John are “crazy in love with each other.”
After ordering Natalie to leave (and throwing up offstage), Lisa is visited by a stranger who claims to be an old college buddy of John’s. Lisa, who has been married to John for 20 years, and was with him during their student days at Harvard, has no recollection of this man and is skeptical that he is who he claims to be. (“You smile like a murderer,” she tells him.) But the man, Roger (Joe Regalbuto), knows every intimate detail about her, including the fact that she has a mole just above her right breast. He mocks her privileged background and her respect for her husband’s devotion to his activist convictions: “The upper middle class are the only kind (of people) who can afford convictions,” he says.
From here on the conversation takes one surprising twist after another: startling, puzzling, and thoroughly absorbing. Which parts are true? Which parts are lies? Why is Roger there? And where is John?
Steve Zuckerman has directed this small cast with impeccable timing as Lisa responds with rising frenzy to the shifting moods of this alarming stranger. Set and lighting designer Jeff Zuckerman has supplied an attractive artifact-laden apartment, and Roger Bellon’s original background music sounds both ethnic and ominous at the same time.
“A Death in Colombia” is the latest work in playwright Bitterman’s award-winning portfolio of more than 30 produced plays and screenplays, including last year’s “Influence,” which dealt with shenanigans at the World Bank.
Bitterman’s plays are historically accurate, political, provocative, and consistently engaging.
“Theater is about what’s surprising,” he says. “I like to introduce a bit of chaos in my plays and I like that layer of ambiguity, giving the audience room to inhabit the play itself. The unresolved aspects are what’s important, and that has special power when it works.”
In “A Death in Colombia” it definitely works.
“A Death in Colombia” will continue at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through July 31. Call (702) 582-8587 or visit www.ktctickets.org for reservations.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at email@example.com.