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Anation of thieves

One hundred and thirty years ago, William Walker and his band of privateers took over the independent country of Nicaragua and established a military government there. The Nation Thief tells that story as seen by Guy Sartain (Wiley Moore), a black surgeon who accompanied Walker.

Guy Sartain is an outsider, a stranger, bound to Walker out of necessity. Although the action revolves around Sartain, he is apart from it, an outsider who feels more kinship with the Nicaraguans than with his American comrades.

Moore also plays the part of Chelon, the Americans' Nicaraguan guide. In both roles, Moore instills a sense of despair and regret resulting from Walker's invasion.

The thought of a few dozen Americans taking over a Central American country seems completely unreal to a modern audience. How could it be possible? How could fifty men dominate and control an entire country -- a country whose geography they didn't know, a country whose language they did not speak?

The Nation Thief answers these questions, but only in very superficial terms. The play is more concerned with issues of conscience than historical fact. The play focuses on development of morality in some characters, insanity in others, acceptance in the natives, resentment and spite in all, with a touch of romantic intrigue on the side. It is an exhausting play to watch, leaving the audience feeling as drained as Nicaragua.

David Perrigo plays the parts of Talmedge Warner, one of Walker's happy-go-lucky mercenaries, and also of Brian Holdich and Cornelius Vanderbilt, "the most powerful man in the United States." Perrigo -- playwright as well as star -- changes his speach and his mannerisms as easily as he changes his costume, while remaining convincing in all of his roles. Playing the only comic character in the historical tradgedy, Perrigo verges on overacting -- especially when commenting on the "seven eager Nicaraguan women" awaiting him in Central America.

Playing more roles than anyone else in the cast, Josefina Bosch gave me the impression that there were two women in the production; I was amazed when I realized that they were the same. In this world of domination and destruction, Bosch plays Rachel Bingham, who finds love in Hell, and Irena O'Horan, who loses everything to Walker's madness.

If I had to chose one word to describe the production of The Nation Thief, it would be "control." Everything about this play, from the lighting and music to the costumes, acting and script is controlled with the highest percision. As I experienced the play, I was struck by the stark contrast between this control and the world of chaos and disorder which the play depicts.

Jeffry Steele -- who also composed the play's ever-present music -- personifies this control in the character of William Walker. Walker is a genius, seizing Nicaragua with a mere handful of men and building a personal empire. Walker is a madman, the central source of evil, who posesses the charisma to convince others to follow him along his evil path. Steele plays the role hauntingly, as if he were a ghost. His performance alone is worth the admission.

Previously, I have seen Stage Left productions of We Won't Pay, We Won't Pay and La Ultima Banana en Managua (The Last Bananna in Managua). Although these performances were good, The Nation Thief greatly surpasses them in staging, acting, content and direction. The Nation Thief is a highly polished performance, worthy of far more applause than can be done here.

Simson L. Garfinkel->