This review of Don't Drink The Water at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Don't Drink The Water
A Play by Woody Allen
Directed by Marian Waller
Set Design by Joe Rubino
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Don't Drink The Water premiered on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre on November 17, 1966. It moved to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 22, 1968, and finally to the Belasco Theatre on March 25, 1968, eventually closing on April 20, 1968, after 598 performances. While Woody Allen contributed material for the 1960 Broadway musical revue From A To Z, this was his first professionally produced play. In this comedic farce, a crude caterer, Walter Hollander, from Newark, New Jersey travels with his wife Marion and daughter Susan to an unnamed Eastern European country behind the Iron Curtain. While there, Walter attempts to take photographs of missile silos and rockets in a restricted area, is thought to be a spy, and is chased by the Communist Police and Krojack to the American Embassy, where he and his family take refuge. Chaos ensues, riots erupt, bombs are thrown, and the Hollanders are forced to attempt a daring escape in order to save their lives. They are aided in this effort by Father Drobney, a Priest who fancies himself a magician, and by Axel Magee, an incompetent diplomat who has been left in charge by his father, James F. Magee, the United States Ambassador. Axel likes the artist Jackson Pollock because "his paintings best express my mental state."
Woody Allen's trademark style of humor is present in the writing throughout the play. It remains surprisingly fresh and entertaining. Walter, for example, is a caterer who was "the first to make bride grooms out of potato salad." His wife, Marion "is a professional Mahjong hustler who carries her own tiles." After they make out in the dark, Marion confronts Walter saying "you haven't hugged and kissed me like that in 25 years." He responds, "That was you?". While trapped in the American Embassy, Walter has mistaken a Pot Belly Stove for a mailbox, driven the Embassy Chef to the brink of insanity, insulted a Sultan, made fun of the Priest ("you know how it is with those guys; the one who suffers the most gets the promotion"), warned his son in a letter "when you get married, you give up happiness," and is concerned that if the Communists look at his wife's varicose veins during their attempted escape, they will think he is smuggling roadmaps. Mr. Kilroy, who is eventually put in charge, is hit in the head with a brick, gets a concussion, and thinks he is the Wright Brothers - both of them. Walter's response when Axel suggests they may need to bring him to the hospital is to say, "are you going to get him twin beds?" Finally, when Walter's catering partner served discounted meat at an affair causing four guests to get food poisoning, Marion suggests it could have been worse and that he should "be thankful nobody died," Walter hesitates for dramatic effect and then says, "Be Thankful Nobody Died! Yes, we're thinking of making that our slogan!"
A subplot involves Susan, the Hollander's 23-year-old daughter, who has just ended her engagement to Donald, a lawyer who her father liked but who was too boring for her taste. She seeks excitement and is sexually turned on by danger and peril. Given all the picketing and rioting outside the American Embassy, Axel Magee, a 30-year-old Yale graduate, becomes the beneficiary of the situation and finds himself with a girlfriend he never initially sought. Walter is upset his daughter "is kissing the failure" and even preferred a past boyfriend who was a draft dodger because "at least he was a success - he beat the draft." Axel Magee has the worst of luck. His mother is in Court trying to disown him, he defuses a bomb only to later see it go off, he clumsily comes on to Susan causing her to flee the room, is demoted by his own father, and is eventually reassigned to a post in South America - not to mention that Africa has banned him from holding any diplomatic post in any country on the continent. The good news is that, in the end, he saves Susan's life with the help of Father Drobney, although I doubt Susan will be content for long living with Axel in Bolivia.
Don't Drink The Water at Studio Theatre Long Island features an amazingly talented cast. Gary Milenko, a professional actor and an audience favorite who has appeared in over 50 productions on Long Island, stole the show in the lead role of Walter Hollander. He incorporated a number of hilarious Jackie Gleason-style gestures into his performance (Jackie Gleason played Walter Hollander in the 1969 film of the same name). Evan Donnellan was extremely impressive as Axel Magee. He is an ever-youthful and charismatic actor, who can be relied upon to excel in a variety of roles. Also making his particular presence known in this production was Kevin Hansen, who played the Chef. His affectations were perfect for the role. Be forewarned - stay out of his kitchen and don't touch his spice rack! Eric Clavell was Mr. Kilroy, Scott McIntyre played Father Drobney, and Angelo DiBiase excelled as Krojack. All these actors, including W. Gordon Innes, who played the United States Ambassador, are regulars in the pool of high-quality actors populating the Long Island Theater scene. This play featured many such luminaries, causing one audience member to loudly comment during intermission, "There's a lot of ham on that stage!" Remaining cast members included Linda Rameizl as Marion, Jes Almeida as Susan, and Bill Quaresimo as Mr. Burns. Their substantial contribution to the success of the play cannot be understated.
Woody Allen's Don't Drink The Water will run at Studio Theatre Long Island through November 12, 2017. I strongly urge you to catch this production of this funny farce, whether you have seen the play before or not, and to appreciate anew the brilliance of the playwright's intelligent and insightful writing style. Everyone can expect to be insulted including "psychotic liberals and militant fascists." As for the name of the play, everyone is already familiar with Montezuma's revenge but I guess tap water differences in other countries can have a similar effect on American tourists. Walter Hollander laments he traveled "3,500 miles for three weeks of uninterrupted diarrhea!" Tickets are $25.00. For more information, call 631-226-8400 or visit www.studiotheatreli.com