Alan Rosenberg is too charming to play a world-class villain. And so he makes neo-con Paul Wolfowitz almost likeable.

The play is “Influence,” and it takes place during the time when Wolfowitz was head of the World Bank and was detested by almost everyone he worked with. Rosenberg plays him as not the shiniest nickel in the roll, a man who admits he has “made some mistakes,” but continues to pursue a political agenda despite the upheavals to the countries he is “helping.”

His nemesis is a Swede named Rolf (Christopher Curry) who is trying to thwart his plan to set up small micro-loans to banks in Iraq and other underdeveloped countries. Rolf is also trying to get one of The Director’s own staff to undermine him. This young man, Brenden (Ian Lockhart), has been intellectually seduced into supporting The Director, even though his own political views are in direct opposition to his boss’.

Brenden, who is a bright young Yale man from a working-class background, has an idealistic girlfriend, Sally, from a wealthy family with an ultra-liberal orientation. Sally (Kate Siegel) is a woman who habitually screams her opinions and thinks that The Director is the devil incarnate.

But Brenden is flattered to be noticed by the higher-ups and is influenced by the mysterious gangster-like Marty (Robert Cicchini), an apparatchik who speaks in spurts of Brooklynese and apparently serves as The Director’s chief of staff.

The political argument rages back and forth and is sometimes hard to follow, but in the end The Director, like Wolfowitz, is undone by his personal life: he has used his position to procure a glitzy, high-paying job for his girlfriend. This woman, Carmen (Cameron Meyer) runs a foundation that is presumably willing to fund one of Sally’s idealistic schemes to save the world.

Award-winning playwright Shem Bitterman defines The Director as a “tree-shaker” and Carmen identifies him as someone “who always wanted a seat at the table.” The Director agrees, adding, “At least then everybody would know I was invited.”

The cast of “Influence” is uniformly good and the characters are interesting. Director Steve Zuckerman, who is collaborating here with playwright Bitterman for the fifth time, uses a minimum of props to move the players expeditiously from Brenden and Sally’s apartment to The Director’s office, to a rendezvous in a restaurant. And set and lighting designer Jeff McLaughlin has designed a large gray-painted series of recognizable Washington buildings as an attractive background for the action.

This world premiere production launches the Katselas Theatre Company’s 2010 season. It will continue at The Skylight Theatre, 1816 North Vermont Ave., in Los Angeles, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. through April 4. For tickets, call (310) 358-9936.

Cynthia Citron can be reached at

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