The Internationalist

Vineyard Theatre. By Anne Washburn. Dir. Ken Rus Schmoll.With ensemble cast.

LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION Orth, left, learns new tricks from native Parisse.

LANGUAGE INSTRUCTION Orth, left, learns new tricks from native Parisse. Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

Business traveler Lowell (Zak Orth) arrives in the unnamed Eastern European country in which The Internationalist is set, dripping with the fawning politeness of a stranger in a strange land. He’s jittery, jet-lagged, quick to apologize and painstakingly pleasant, but there’s a whiff of condescension here. It’s that strained Yank hominess that says, “Sure, I’ll honor your weird little customs, but we both know I’m in control.” By the end of Anne Washburn’s coldly keen study of cultural alienation and globalist occupation, the tables have been turned on Lowell—then turned again. In a foreign context, Washburn observes, language, manners and mores turn opaque and all attachments—corporate and romantic—become provisional.

The Internationalist marks Washburn’s second Off Broadway production (after 2004’s brilliant Apparition) and bravo to the Vineyard for mounting it. The theater has also smartly retained original director Ken Rus Schmoll (the play was produced two years ago at the Culture Project), and he stages this wry, brittlely articulate thriller-comedy with his flair for shadowy, low-key menace. Schmoll also keeps his cast on the same page—not easy since Washburn’s style depends on a high-tensile atmosphere of cryptic awkwardness. As a lowly office worker who begins an affair with the visiting Lowell, Annie Parisse is gently empathetic; Gibson Frazier’s office lout is comical yet scary; Nina Hellman scores laughs as various tough women; and Ken Marks and Liam Craig round out the unusually fine cast. Most impressive, Washburn renders whole scenes in a gibberish-sounding nonce tongue (“Patchtada pica hem frad!”) that sounds funny, but also neatly precludes audience comprehension. Writing well is hard enough, but this fiercely imaginative dramatist has her English and eats it, too. — David Cote