Now Showing — Madam Ambassador: “I will buy my way if I have to!”

By Domani Spero

Now showing at the Capital Fringe Festivaltickets are still available for the July 20 and July 27 engagement of Madam Ambassador, a play by retired diplomat, historian and playwright Duke Ryan.  

Madam Ambassador, Capital Fringe

Image from Madam Ambassador, Capital Fringe

According to the preview of the play via DC Metro Theater Arts:

Madam Ambassador is different. It is a satire, which focuses on the bizarre way the United States chooses it top diplomats. The problem, of course, is that many Americans don’t even know that we have diplomats, much less have any idea what they do. Foreign affairs?–armed forces handle that, don’t they? Alas, they do, more and more, partially because of the ridiculous system lampooned in this play.

After a reading in England, a sophisticated Cambridge audience enjoyed it immensely, but, interestingly, they said again and again—do you actually pick ambassadors like that? The answer, of course, is yes– the ones in the nice posts anyway.

Carolyn Kelemen reviewing the play writes:

“Part Ann Richards, Madeline Albright, and, perhaps, Pamela Harriman – if they were Republican – Magno captures the feistiness of all three world leaders plus a little bit of Margaret Thatcher with her crisp English pronouncement, “I will buy my way if I have to!” Sound familiar?

As a retired diplomat and historian, Playwright Duke Ryan is savvy to the plots of international diplomacy, and his humor in dealing with these issues comes off clear and direct. “When you are in public service you have to think of money,” the appointed Danish ambassador proclaims to Buzz, about to stir up more trouble.

WaPo writes that this play is probably terribly funny to FS folks and that when the actors find their feet, maybe the non-FS audience may find it really funny, too:

“Madam Ambassador,” a satire about diplomats written by former diplomat Duke Ryan, is probably really funny to people who have worked in the foreign service. To the rest of us, it’s a slightly clunky story about a bored wealthy woman (Patsy Magno) who buys herself an ambassadorship to Copenhagen and then has to play some dirty politics in order to . . . well, it’s not entirely clear. 

The show drags because the actors often seem to have trouble remembering their lines, and in at least one case an actor is still surreptitiously on book. We see that script on your desk, masquerading as papers, Madam. Perhaps once the actors find their feet, the whole thing will be faster and lighter, and the diplomats in the audience won’t be the only ones guffawing.

A brief description of Madam Ambassador, the play from Duke Ryan via

The Corn Belt meets the Beltway when Valerie Butts makes up her mind to get back to the hub of power from which she was dumped abruptly when her powerful senator husband first lost his seat then died campaigning to get it back. That left her in Union, Illinois, far out where the prairie meets the horizon, or as she sees it, in the middle of Purgatory. She decides she wants to be an ambassador and believes she still has the connections to do it. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. We watch her try.

Cast and Setting

Valerie Butts: She is middle-aged, conservatively well dressed, and well spoken. She grew up in Chicago’s fashionable North Shore suburbs and was educated in private Eastern schools. Shortly after college graduation she married an upward-bound politician who soon became a senator. She became used to living in high-powered Washington circles, but the senator’s defeat, then death, left her in a small prairie town.

Buzz Butts: He is Valerie’s second husband, and he, too, is middle-aged, but a good cut below her on the socio-economic scale. Except for a tour in the Marines and a cruise he took to get over a divorce, he spent all his life on Chicago’s West Side until he met Valerie. He has spent much of his life managing a gymnasium and was once an amateur boxer.

Gumpston: He is a small town activist and political party operative who is moving higher in non-elective politics. He is eager, almost over-eager, to gain recognition for his work.

Gretta: She is a maid in the home of the Danish Minister of Sport and Recreation. She is sometimes casual about what is hers and what is not and can be quite brazen about it.

Leon Strummer: He is a high-powered Washington lawyer, sometimes holding high office, sometimes acting behind the scenes, but always a major player in power circles. He is profane, arrogant, and abrasive.

Mr. Ryan’s real name is Henry Butterfield Ryan.  He joined the Foreign Service in 1961.  He served with the U.S. Information Agency for 25 years in Brazil, Norway, Australia, and Washington.   USIA sponsored him for an academic year at Harvard where he earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration (M.P.A.). Later, he went on leave without pay to get a Ph.D. in diplomatic history at Cambridge University. He returned to USIA afterwards and subsequently retired in 1986. He is the author of several books and plays.