- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

More fun than two packs of honey-roasted peanuts, “The Internationalist” is slick and provocative comedy for our global age.

An import from the New York-based theater company 13P, Anne Washburn’s play gives the standard fish-out-of-water plot an intercontinental, jet-lagged twist that is enhanced by the generic, modern sleekness of Debra Booth’s set and the sardonic crispness of the performances under the direction of Kirk Jackson.

“The Internationalist” follows Lowell (Tyler Pierce), an American executive usually on top of his game, as he lands disheveled and disoriented (after a hilariously thorough strip search at the airport that ends with a Homeland Security employee giving him a wedgie) in some undetermined Eastern European country, an outpost of his home corporation.

When we first meet Lowell, he’s boogieing to his iPod - carry-on luggage in hand while standing confidently in line at the airport. By the end, he’s rumpled beyond salvation and uncertain about what’s real and what’s the product of his sleep-deprived brain.

Outside his comfort zone, Lowell becomes the perpetual butt of jokes about tourists and American businessmen. His new colleagues - who all speak a devilish jabberwocky that sounds vaguely Eastern European and part Arabic with a bit of Mandarin thrown in - constantly put him in the position of defending his country and its politics.

As a stranger in a strangely hostile country, can Lowell figure out who he is - and even entertain the possibility of romance with the enigmatic beauty Sara (Tonya Beckman Ross), a file clerk and impromptu tour guide?

“The Internationalist” explores how we identify ourselves through culture and language by thrusting both Lowell and the audience into a setting where we do not understand most of what is spoken.

The country’s gibberish, exuberantly spouted by cast members Holly Twyford, Cameron McNary, Miss Ross, Jason Lott and James Konicek is so comically incomprehensible that we - like Lowell -are forced to clue into body language, the stray word of English and gestures to figure out what everyone is saying. In this play, we’re all tourists without a phrase book.

This device makes us bond with Lowell as Mr. Pierce effortlessly elicits both empathy and laughs as a corporate go-getter brought low by a language barrier. Miss Ross adds an air of mystery and perhaps duplicity to the role of Sara, while Miss Twyford is a clear-cut howl as the by-the-book executive Irene.

Mr. Lott’s expressions of utter panic are priceless in a number of roles, in contrast to the smooth elegance of Mr. Konicek’s Paul and Mr. McNary’s obsessive office nerd Nicol.

“The Internationalist” conveys that tiny thrill you get as your card key clicks into yet another anonymous business hotel. On the other side of the door awaits something either new and intriguing or reassuringly familiar. You just never know.

***1/2

WHAT: “The Internationalist,” by Anne Washburn

WHERE: Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Through June 22.

TICKETS: $39 to $57

PHONE: 202/232-3300

WEB SITE: www.studiotheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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