Cold War comedy heats up Coach House Theatre
By David Ritchey
WEST AKRON — About 40 years ago, when the Cold War was chilling most of the world, Woody Allen wrote a charming comedy, “Don’t Drink the Water.” The title, of course, comes from the admonition that when traveling in undeveloped countries one should not drink the water.
The title has nothing to do with the play, which is now on stage at Coach House Theatre.
The plot concerns the Hollander family (a husband, wife and daughter), who have gone on a grand tour of Europe. The husband wanted to go to a beach in New Jersey, but his wife and brother-in-law talked him into a trip to Europe. The final stages of the trip take the family behind the Iron Curtain.
Walter Hollander has a new camera and a new hobby, photography. So, he photographs everything, including a restricted facility. He, his wife and daughter are pursued by the police, and the family finds protection in the American embassy.
This is the most inept ambassador and staff one could hope to find in any comedy.
As the story opens, the Ambassador
Magee has been called back to the United States by his
political party to run for governor of his home state.
Magee leaves his son Axel in charge of the embassy.
This should be a no-problem situation for Axel. Nothing
is planned except a reception for the Sultan of Bashir.
Ambassador Magee has hardly cleared
the back door of the embassy when the Hollander family
runs through the front door, pursued by Krojack, a local
police officer. Krojack accuses the Hollander clan of
being spies. The family has no choice but to live in
the embassy until the diplomatic wheels turn to trade
the Hollander family for a spy the Americans have just
captured in the United States.
On the top floor of the embassy
lives Father Drobney, who found refuge in the embassy
and has lived there six years. Drobney, a wanna-be-magician,
has a captive audience at the embassy for rehearsals
of his magic show. In one scene, when he can’t
find the rabbit he used in his magic act, he discovers
the chef planned to serve it for dinner.
Along the way, Susan Hollander,
the daughter, falls for Axel.
Allen wrote “Don’t
Drink the Water” during the stand-up-comedy part
of his career. This is before his movie work. Allen’s
movies have a reputation for being smart, sophisticated
and cerebral. “Don’t Drink the Water”
is not smart, sophisticated or cerebral. However, what
Allen wrote is what Broadway and community theaters
were looking for in the 1960s.
Director Jim Fippin keeps the
nonsense moving at a brisk pace. The acting is consistent
and appropriate for the script.
Rob Core, as Kilroy, one of the
ambassador’s assistants, stopped the show. Kilroy
is hit over the head and thinks he is both of the Wright
brothers, in one body. Core plays both characters and
an airplane in one of the funniest bits to reach the
Coach House stage.
As the head of the Hollander
family, Jack Herman — dressed in Bermuda shorts,
a Hawaiian shirt and covered with cameras and other
tourist paraphernalia — is everything one looks
for in the ugly American tourist, who can’t understand
why everything is not the way it is in the United States.
When this character is
overcome with the strangeness of a situation, he covers
his ears and sings “Strangers in the Night.”
And, he frequently sings “Strangers in the Night.”
“Don’t Drink the
Water” continues through Sept. 23. This is a pleasant
evening in the theater. The production is short, less
than two hours, with a 15-minute intermission. For ticket
information, call (330) 434-7741.
David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in
communications and is a professor of communications
at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American
Theatre Critics Association.
Ron Cuirle (Axel) and Margaret Morris (Susan Hollander) star in Coach House Theatre’s production of “Don’t Drink the Water.” Photo: Michael Kermizis